PHOTO: US Secretary of State Kerry “Russia has an interest in not being bogged down forever”
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The International Syria Support Group, the 17 nations pursuing a “cessation of hostilities” and political talks, will reconvene on May 17 in Vienna.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in London that he expected discussions between the Assad regime and the opposition-rebel bloc to resume “some days after” the ISSG meeting.
“The ISSG will formally come together to build on what we did with the Russians in terms of this agreement and to talk about all kinds of things, ranging from duration, to enforcement to the political process,” Kerry said.
Working through the ISSG, the US and Russia led the declaration of a “cessation of hostilities” on February 27.
However, the truce only held in parts of Syria. It was never effectively implemented in the northwest, with the Assad regime continuing ground and air attacks and rebels launching a successful counter-offensive south of Aleppo city from the start of April. Russian and regime warplanes have subsequently killed hundreds of civilians in and near Aleppo, despite Damascus announcing a series of token “regimes of calm”.
Meanwhile, the political talks in Geneva made no progress since January and were suspended last month. President Assad effectively pre-empted the discussions by declaring that he will not accept a transitional governing authority, a central element of international plans since 2012. Iran has supported Assad’s position that he will not discuss his future, although his other major ally, Russia, has indicated that it might be willing to see his departure as part of a long-term transition.
The opposition-rebel bloc has also demanded an end to bombing, sieges, and political detentions.
However, Kerry maintained on Tuesday that the US Presidential election would spur progress between the two sides:
I think it’s actually an incentive to get things done now, while you have an administration that you know is working for a political solution and that you know would be prepared to bring parties together around a reconstruction process for Syria.
Asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday how an agreement could be reached when Russia was “Assad’s partner”, Kerry replied:
Russia has an interest in not being bogged down forever in Syria. Russia has an interest in not becoming a target of the entire Sunni world and having every jihadi in the region coming after [it]….Russia’s economy is not exactly soaring. They’ve got other chalenges.
Russian Soldier Killed in Homs Province
Russian soldier Anton Yerygin has died from wounds suffered during operations in Homs Province.
Citing a military spokesman, the Russian State outlet TASS confirmed the death, saying it occurred when a Russian convoy of its “Center for Reconciliation” was shelled. Yerygin was severely injured and died soon after arrival in hospital.
Yerygin is the seventh Russian soldier whose death has been officially reported.
Last Obstretician in East Ghouta Killed Amid Rebel In-Fighting
The last obstetrician-gynecologist in East Ghouta near Damascus has died after he was struck by a stray bullet amid rebel in-fighting in Douma.
Dr. Nabeel al-Daas was struck in the head while he was sitting in his home.
The leading rebel group in East Ghouta, Jaish al-Islam, has been confronted by Failaq al-Rahman and Jaish al-Fustat, this spring. The groups reached a tentative ceasefire on Monday, soon after a Jaish al-Islam advance, including tanks, took control of the towns of Misraba and Mudira from Failaq al-Rahman.
A colleague said al-Daas’s death was “insurmountable”: “His kindness and selflessness in his work are what make him irreplaceable and what makes this such a great loss.”
Pro-Assad Newspaper Warns of “Bread Crisis”
The pro-regime Al-Watan has warned, amid economic difficulty and spiralling prices, of a bread shortage.
The newspaper, owned by Assad’s billionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf, published the headline on Tuesday night, “Bread…a crisis on the way! A decision to reduce the flour for auxiliary bakeries by 30%, and the ministry doesn’t know!”
The article claimed the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Protection reduced flour allocation to bakeries by 30%, while ordering the facilities to cut their shifts and only open 16 hours a day.
Al-Watan calculated that the bakeries will be forced to lower production from 20,000 tons of bread monthly to 14,000 tons, or a 235-ton decrease per day.
The Director of Supply in Damascus on the matter, insisted that bakeries were working well and there were no cases of breadlines, even though the Al-Watan reporter wrote that crowds had been spotted the day before.
Syrian Pound Slides Farther as Cabinet Discusses Crisis
The Syrian pound has slid farther against the US dollar, a day after the Cabinet met to discuss the currency crisis.
The pound is now more than 640:1 vs. the dollar on unofficial markets, a 12% fall from last week and down from 500:1 only two months ago.
Before the uprising of March 2011, the pound was at 47:1.
State news agency SANA said the Cabinet’s weekly meeting on Tuesday “discussed the challenges facing the Syrian Pound and measures to stabilize it, as well as mechanisms to monitor prices in markets”.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi claimed that “there is no economic crisis in Syria but rather an organized economic war that aims at weakening the country”. He said the Government would counter this by cooperating with civil society, businessmen, and media outlets.
The Central Bank effectively abandoned Syria’s official rate on Tuesday, ordered currency exchanges to offer 620 Syrian pounds to the dollar. It said that it would re-evaluate the rate on a daily basis.
Last month the World Bank estimated Syria’s reserves at just $700 million, compared to about $19 billion in March 2011. Inflation is at 95%, and GDP is contracting about 15% each year.
Russia Fails to Get Leading Rebel Factions on UN “Terrorist” List
Russia has failed to get the addition of the leading rebel factions Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam on a UN blacklist of terrorist organizations.
Diplomats said Britain, France, the US, and Ukraine blocked the Russian effort on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the US delegation said:
“Russia publicly attempting to designate groups that are parties to the cessation of hostilities could have damaging consequences to the cessation just as we are trying to de-escalate the situation on the ground.
Now is not the time to shift course, but rather double-down on our efforts toward a reduction in violence.
Russia has tried since late 2015 to label the two rebel factions as “terrorist”, hoping to exclude them from political discussions on Syria’s future.
Ahrar al-Sham did not join an opposition-rebel bloc established at a conference in Riyadh in conference. However, Jaish al-Islam is part of the High Negotiations Committee, and its official Mohammad Alloush has been one of the lead negotiators in the Geneva talks.
Former Iran General: More Than 1,200 Iranian Troops Killed Since 2012
A retired Revolutionary Guards general has said that Iran has lost more than 1,200 troops in the Syrian conflict since 2012.
In comments to the Iranian Students News Agency, Abdullah al-Tabrizi also indicated that the Islamic Republic should pull back from its escalation in Syria and focus on the battle in Iraq against the Islamic State: “I did not fight Daesh in Syrian territory. We will have to fight on the borders of Kurdistan.”
US Failing to Meet Modest Target for Admission of Syrian Refugees
The US could fail to meet even its small target of the admission of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the 2015/16 fiscal year.
More than seven months since President Obama pledged to resettle the most vulnerable Syrians, the Administration has only admitted 1,736 of the goal of at least 10,000.
President Obama has said that he will raise the issue of refugee resettlement at this year’s UN General Assembly session.
But Eleanor Acer, the senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, noted, “The United States cannot lead by example unless the administration meets this year’s very modest goal and sets a more meaningful and ambitious goal for next year.”
Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard insisted that the Administration remained committed to its promise to take in 10,000 Syrians by the end of September, without cutting back on “robust security screening”.
Video: Regime Airstrike Kills 10+ in Binnish in Idlib Province
Footage from the site of Tuesday’s regime airstrike on Binnish in Idlib Province, killing at least 10 people (Warning — Graphic Images):
A mosque was heavily damaged in the attack (see Tuesday’s Syria Daily).
The Jaish al-Fatah rebel bloc responded to the assault with shelling of the regime enclave of al-Fu’ah, north of Idlib city.