The Geneva II conference adjourned on Friday with no significant advance, overtaken by the Assad regime’s escalating campaign of bombing in southern Syria.
Almost 40 bombs fell on the Damascus suburb of Darayya yesterday, bringing the today to more than 70 since Wednesday. Airstrikes were also carried out on other areas in the south such as Zabadani and East Ghouta near Damascus, as well as in the northwest with attacks in Idlib Province.
The number of casualties in Darayya and beyond is unknown, but the Local Coordiation Committees said 106 people died across the country, including 19 children and 15 women. Of the deaths, 61 were in Aleppo Province and 19 in Damascus and its suburbs.
Well-placed sources describe the bombings as a sign of weakness, with Syrian forces losing territory in the south and fearing that insurgent control of Darayya would cut off the regime between south Damascus and Dar’aa Province.
Video backed up the claims, with insurgents celebrating victories in Swisah and other locations near Quneitra:
Insurgents attacking regime forces in the area:
In Geneva, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said there had been little progress in the 10 days of talks, but declared a “modest beginning”:
Both sides have become used to sitting in the same room. They have presented positions, and listened to each other….Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner.
The envoy said the opposition delegation would be back on February 10. However, President Assad’s representatives, led by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, said they would have to consult with Damascus.
The opposition’s attempt to discuss a political transition without Assad was blocked by the regime delegation’s insistence on a focus on “terrorism”. Confidence-building measures such as aid to besieged areas of Homs, first announced last Saturday, have stalled as Damascus held up approval.
Al-Moallem blamed the lack of advance on the “non-seriousness” of the opposition delegations and “its threat of blowing up the meetings many times”. Without referring to the demand that President Assad step down for a political transition, he chided “its stubbornness on one issue”.
Al-Moallem also claimed “flagrant intervention” by the US, including the Congressional authorization of non-lethal aid to insurgents.
The Assad delegation also told the opposition, “Syria was and is still ruled by men of State, not by amateurs or semi-men.”
4 Killed In Another Suicide Bomb in Northeast Lebanon
A suicide car bomb attack struck Hermel in northeast Lebanon on Saturday, killing at least four people and wounding 21.
The attack is the 2nd in just over two weeks in Hermel by Jabhat al-Nusra, an Islamist faction prominent in fighting in Syria. A bomb in January killed five people.
Today’s bomber struck a petrol station.
100s Evacuated from Besieged Yarmouk
Aid agencies evacuated hundreds of people from the besieged Damascus section of Yarmouk this weekend
Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said the group co-ordinated with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on Friday and Saturday over the evacuation.
The remaining 18,000 residents, mainly Palestinians, have been cut off by the Syrian military since July. More than 80 have reportedly died from starvation.
Activist Media: Barrel Bombs Kill 13 in Aleppo
The Aleppo Media Center said at least 13 people were killed by barrel bombs in Aleppo on Saturday.
Those slain by the regime airstrikes included a family trapped in a car when a fuel tanker exploded from the bombing. Three buildings were damaged.
Foreign Minister: We Rejected US Approach for Direct Talks at Geneva II
“The Americans asked us to negotiate directly with them in Montreux,” al-Moallem told Syrian State media on the plane home from Switzerland. “But we refused to do so before Secretary of State John Kerry apologized for what he said at the conference.”
During the opening, Kerry said President Assad “will not be part” of a transitional government: “There is no way, not possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain legitimacy to govern.”
(The State Department later denied the claim. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US had offered contact with Syrian officials “on a staff level” through UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
“At no point did the United States offer to negotiate directly with the Syrian regime,” she said.)
Al-Moallem would not commit to a second round of talks for February 10, saying the delegation awaited guidance from Damascus.
He dismissed the “coalition of the so-called ‘opposition’”: “If they do not abandon their illusions, they will get a rude shock because we are a country of institutions and a constitution and we have a President of the republic.”
The Foreign Minister said it was “a stain” on the opposition that they refused to sign a declaration condemning “terrorism” in the country.
Fighting Renews Between FSA, Chechen-Led Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar, Regime Nr Aleppo
Russian-language sources close to Chechen and North Caucasian fighters in Syria report that fighting between regime troops and the Free Syrian Army has renewed in Ma’aret Artik, between Kafr Hamra and Babis north of Aleppo city.
Map showing Ma’aret Artik (click for a larger and clearer view):
Ma’aret Artik is described as the “ribat” or frontline of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar (JMA). The reports say that “this is what JMA managed to repulse in recent days”, presumably a reference to the regime forces.
The situation around Ma’aret Artik is complex. There have been some unclear reports from Russian-language sources that JMA is cooperating with other insurgent forces — possibly the Islamic Front and another faction named Nuraddin az-Zinki — in the area against the regime.
JMA is led by Salahuddin Shishani, who took over the faction in November after its former leader, Umar Shishani, swore an oath of allegiance to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi and joined ISIS, provoking a split in the predominantly Chechen faction between those who swore to ISIS and those who remained loyal to the Caucasus Emirate.
Salahuddin has slammed fighting between ISIS and other insurgents, vowing to stay out of it, and saying he preferred to fight the regime. In this, he has taken a similar view to other Chechen insurgents, notably his former comrade-in-arms and Umar’s former second-in-command in JMA, Sayfullakh Shishani — who has sworn an oath to Jabhat al-Nusra — has also condemned the infighting and there are reports that he has also taken part in battles against the regime.