LATEST: Jabhat al-Nusra Claims Rocket Attack on Lebanese Town of Hermel

SATURDAY FEATURES

UPDATE 1730 GMT: United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has said that the first outcome of indirect talks between the Assad and opposition delegations at the Geneva II conference is the delivery of food aid to sections of Homs on Monday.

Brahimi said a convoy is ready to make the delivery, but the decision will be made locally by the Governor and security forces.

Brahimi’s announcement followed two hours of talks with the regime and opposition delegations in the afternoon.

The envoy said talks on Sunday will consider detainees and those who have kidnapped, with the hope of arranging freedom for some of them.

Meanwhile, Brahimi offered his opinion of the regime’s airstrikes:

Following Brahimi’s announcement, opposition spokesman Louay Safi took a question from a pro-regime journalist, “Why don’t you want elections?”


UPDATE 1000 GMT: The Assad and opposition delegations have met in the same room for the first time, but did not speak to each other, on Saturday morning.

The two sides sat with United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who passed messages between the two groups. The meeting lasted less than an hour and no statements were released afterward.

The heads of the delegations, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Syrian National Council leader Ahmad Jarba, were not at the meeting.


United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi (pictured) says he will meet the Assad and opposition Syrian delegations “in the same room” on Saturday at the Geneva II conference.

Brahimi initially tried to arrange the meeting for Friday, but both sides balked: the regime delegation said the opposition must renounce “terrorism”, and the Syrian National Coalition said there must be a commitment to a transitional governing authority without President Assad.

The UN envoy said yesterday afternoon, “We are going to meet tomorrow. I hope that it will be a good beginning, and that we will continue until the end of next week.”

He claimed that both sides have accepted the principles of the “Geneva I” communique from June 2012 that called for the transitional governing body.

An opposition delegation said there would be a short morning session “in which only Brahimi will speak” and a longer session in the afternoon.

The two sides will speak to Brahimi, but not each other, during the session.


Jabhat al-Nusra Claims Rocket Attack on Lebanese Town of Hermel

Rockets fired from the Anti-Lebanon mountain range struck Hermel in Lebanon’s northern Beqaa Valley on Saturday.

A report from the National News Agency did not specify how many rockets were fired.

The Lebanese branch of Jabhat Al-Nusra, an Islamist faction involved in Syria’s fighting, reportedly issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, alongside the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

“The Marwan Hadid Brigades adherent to the Abdullah Azzam Brigades as well the Al-Nusra Front in Lebanon [claim] the bombing of Hermel with seven Grad rockets, [an attack] which achieved its goals,” said a statement issued on Twitter.

A statement from the Brigades promised more attacks if Hezbollah did not halt operation in support of Syria’s Assad regime.

Nine days ago, Jabhat al-Nusra claimed a bomb which killed five people in Hermel. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades has claimed recent bombings in Beirut, including an attack near the Iranian Embassy in November.

See Video Analysis: Will the Civil War Spread to Lebanon?

Russia FM Lavrov: Geneva II Conference Cannot Be About Regime Change

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reiterated that the Geneva II conference should not and cannot be about the departure of the Assad regime:

Everyone says that if we just set the task of regime change, as some are attempting to do, chaos will come to Syria. And more than enough chaos is there. But this could simply avalanche…and no one wants this. Everyone realizes that order should be maintained and no other methods, but preserving the current institutions, exist for this.

Russia’s co-sponsor of the conference, the US, has insisted — alongside the Syrian opposition — that the gathering must adhere to the “Geneva I” provision of Assad giving up power to a transitional governing authority.

Lavrov did not directly counter the Americans, but focused on Moscow as a broker of discussions. He said Russia is pushing Syrians “so that they agree themselves”:

This could sound quite naive but no other way actually exists.

It is possible to influence the parties and to prompt them so that they sit at the negotiating table, not just ‘serve’ an act, and truly search for some compromises.

It is impossible to put some scheme on the table, like, “provision 1 — someone leaves, provision 2 — someone comes.’ This is social engineering, which has never ended in anything good anywhere.

He repeated:

Nothing is said in the Geneva communique that someone should leave – it states the necessity for Syrians themselves to accord a mutually acceptable composition and parameters of transition period. And it is emphasized there that, at that, it is necessary to preserve the institutions of Syrian society, including the army and security service.

“Things proceed slowly, not as fast as we wanted, even amid the political will of Moscow and Washington,” Lavrov said.

Video: Regime Bomb in Damascus Suburb of Darayya

The Syrian military continues its bombardment of Darayya, southwest of Damascus, as insurgents and the regime fight for control of the suburb:

87 Killed on Friday as Regime Steps Up Airstrikes

The Local Coordination Committees claim 87 people were killed in Syria on Friday, as the Syrian military bombed throughout the country.

Warplanes dropped dozens of bombs in and near Aleppo, with 34 people killed in the province. There were also waves of airstrikes in Damascus Province, where 14 died, and in Daraa Province.

Site of an attack in Aleppo:

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