Talks have yielded little progress since January and regime attacks continue despite Russia’s “de-escalation zones”
In separate statements, the UN and Russia have announced their intentions to renew political talks between Syria’s opposition and the Assad regime that have made little progress since January.
The UN said it is seeking another round of talks in Geneva on July 10, while Moscow said it wants discussion in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on July 4-5.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura (pictured) said he envisaged further rounds of talks in August and September. Neither the Assad regime nor the opposition issued a response.
In six previous rounds, de Mistura has only been to put forth four areas for negotiation: governance, a new Constitution, elections, and a fight against “terrorism”. Bashar al-Assad said in March that he will not accept a transition in which he gives up power, and the regime has taken no steps to meet demands for an end to bombing and sieges and the release of political detainees.
The head of UN humanitarian operations in Syria, Jan Egeland, said this week that attempts to deliver aid have blocked for more than 40 days, the longest halt in the conflict. Most of the more than 600,000 affected civilians — a conservative figure, according to the opposition and activist groups — have been surrounded by regime forces for years.
The last set of talks in Astana, in early May, produced a Russian-Turkish-Iranian document for four de-escalation zones in parts of Syria. However, the Assad regime has continued its bombing and shelling, notably on Daraa in southern Syria and on the southern suburbs. There have also been ongoing attacks in northwest Syria, although the scale has been reduced in the past six weeks.
TOP PHOTO: Pierre Albouy/Reuters
Red Crescent Worker Seriously Wounded in Attack on Aid Convoy Near Damascus
A Syrian Arab Red Crescent worker has been seriously wounded in an attack on an aid convoy near Damascus on Saturday ight.
“The 37-truck convoy from the ICRC, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the United Nations was to deliver food, medicine and daily essentials to 11,000 people in the town of East Harasta,” the Red Cross said. “Residents in East Harasta have not received any humanitarian aid for nearly eight months. Renewed security guarantees are needed in order to proceed with this planned aid delivery.”
The Assad regime claimed the rebel faction Jaish al-Islam is responsible, but pro-opposition sites said regime forces prevented the convoy from entering Harasta, holding it for more than 12 hours.
Jaish al-Islam said it does not operate in Harasta, which is controlled by the Fajer al-Ommah faction.
Kurds-Led SDF: We Have Liberated 4 Raqqa Districts
The US-supported, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said on Saturday that they have taken four districts in ISIS-held Raqqa since the beginning of a final offensive on June 6.
The SDF said it has killed 312 Islamic State fighters and captured seven. The Forces, led by the Kurdish militia YPG, put their losses at 15 killed and 21 wounded.
The offensive has moved on Raqqa from the east and west, moving into the districts of al-Mishlab, al-Sabahiya, al-Romaniya, and Sinaa.
White Helmets’ Message of Solidarity Over London Fire
The White Helmets, the civil defense organization in Syria’s opposition areas, have issued a message of solidarity with London’s firefighters, following the blaze in a tower block in which 30 people were killed and at least 28 are missing and are presumed dead:
This is the message of solidarity to Britain's firefighters from Syria's White Helmets. pic.twitter.com/Dy2hmoMesD
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 17, 2017
Russia: We Killed Two More ISIS Commanders
The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed the deaths of two more Islamic State field commanders, a day after it said that it may have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in May 28 airstrikes.
The Ministry named the slain commander as Abu Omar al-Beljiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri, saying they were hit in strikes near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria.
Moscow has provided no evidence for the killing of al-Baghdadi and other high-level commanders as they met near ISIS’s central position of Raqqa in northern Syria.
Analysts were also sceptical of the Russians’ latest claim of the deaths of the two commanders and 180 other fighters.
Hisham al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based specialists who advises several Middle East governments on the Islamic State, said Abu Yasin al-Masri is the same person as Abu al-Haj al-Masri, who the Russians said they killed near Raqqa in May.
Hashimi said al-Beljiki was unlikely to have been in Syria at the time of the attack.