PHOTO: UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura
The UN’s envoy for Syria has declared that the prospects for suspended political talks should be “clearer” after a Security Council discussion next week.
Staffan de Mistura gave no indication of support for his projection from contacts either with the Assad regime or the Syrian opposition. Instead, he said that he and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had “quite a comprehensive and long meeting” with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in St Petersburg last week.
De Mistura oversaw indirect talks in Geneva, brokered by the US and Russia, between the regime and an opposition-rebel bloc from January to April.
The discussions collapsed with President Assad’s declaration that he would never accept a transitional governing authority, and with continuing regime bombing and sieges. A February 27 “cessation of hostilities” has also broken down, especially in northwestern Syria.
Throughout May and early June, De Mistura continued to promise a resumption of talks but kept pushing back the date, given the opposition’s refusal to rejoin without an effective move to end attacks and sieges.
The envoy told reporters on Thursday that he still wants negotiations in July — saying this will meet an August deadline for a deal — but first he wants the US and Russia to make a “critical mass” of progress on a deal.
He maintained that ongoing technical talks in Moscow and Cairo about a political resolution had been “very useful”.
“They are under the radar, calm and quiet and discreet but they have been providing us with quite a lot of substantive points that can be, will be useful, when the [next round of] intra-Syrian talks take place,” he said.
UN Still Waiting for Regime Permission to Deliver Aid
The UN’s official for humanitarian operations in Syria, Jan Egeland, gave a far more pessimistic message than De Mistura, saying that the Assad regime is still not permitting aid into some besieged areas.
Egeland said the UN is still asking the regime for permission to get into towns such as Erbin and Zamalka in Damascus, and he noted that an agreement to deliver aid to the al-Wa’er district in Homs city is “going badly”.
The official warned that four towns covered by a ceasefire agreement — opposition-held Zabadani and Madaya in Damascus Province and the regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya in northwest Syria — have not had food deliveries since April. The humanitarian situation was in danger of sliding back to conditions at the start of the year, when people in Madaya were starving to death.
The regime briefly relaxed restrictions on aid after the February 27 cessation of hostilities agreement, but renewed blockades in April and May. With the UN able to assist only 5% of hard-to-reach areas, Egeland warned of humanitarian catastrophes, including starvation among children.
Hezbollah: We Will Increase Our Military Involvement in Aleppo
Reversing its approach from March, Hezbollah is increasing its military presence in and near Aleppo city.
Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said, in a televised speech:
We are facing a new wave, or a new stage, of projects of war against Syria which are being waged in northern Syria, particularly in the Aleppo region.
The defense of Aleppo is the defense of the rest of Syria. It is the defense of Damascus. It is also the defense of Lebanon, and of Iraq.
Hezbollah, vital in the defense of the Assad regime, redeployed its fighters from the Aleppo battlefronts to southern Syria in March.
However, as rebels and Jabhat al-Nusra overran Iranian-led positions south of Aleppo this spring and as pro-Assad forces struggled to claim territory to the north, the Lebanese organization reversed its decision.
So far the redeployment has run into difficulty. Pro-rebel accounts said dozens of fighters were killed last week, both by rebel attacks and by an errant attack by Russian warplanes.
In a rare admission of casualties, Nasrallah said 26 fighters had been killed since the beginning of June.
Claims: Rebels Repel Another Pro-Assad Attack North of Aleppo
Pro-opposition activists claim that rebels have repelled another attack by pro-Assad forces north of Aleppo city.
The Syrian military and foreign allies tried again to move into Handarat, near the main route to opposition-held areas of Aleppo city.
The Syrian army, Iranian units, Hezbollah fighters, and other foreign militias have tried for months to close off the route near Handarat.
Footage from the rebel Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement about the battlefield at nearby al-Mallah Farms:
Rebels also claimed that they pushed back an attack on the al-Zahra district in western Aleppo city, killing at least 12 pro-Assad troops.
Critically-Injured Journalist Issa Gets Visa for German Medical Treatment
Soon after an appeal was launched on social media, critically-injured Khalid al-Issa has been granted a visa for essential medical care in Germany.
Issa and journalist Hadi al-Abdallah were wounded last week by an improvised explosive device. The cameraman suffered shrapnel injury. Abdollah is in stable condition with injuries to his eye, jaw, and left leg.
Kurds-Led Forces Continues Battle with ISIS Outside Manbij
The US-led coalition said on Thursday that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are fighting through Islamic State defenses on the edge of Manbij city, ISIS’s main position in Aleppo Province in northern Syria.
British Army Major General Doug Chalmers, a deputy commander with the coalition, said the SDF was having to face the challenges not only of ISIS’s defenses but also the civilian population still in Manbij.
Chalmers’ statement appeared to pull back claims that SDF fighters had moved into the city. Nasser Haj Mansour, an adviser to the SDF, said on Thursday that some troops had entered from the northern edge, close to grain silos.
The long-awaited offensive began at the end of May, following months of SDF advances against ISIS across northeastern Syria. The city is now effectively cut off, with only a highway corridor — under SDF “fire control” — to allow exit for civilians.