Moscow quickly seizes on UN envoy De Mistura’s sidelining of political transition for emphasis on “counter-terrorism”
UPDATE 1745 GMT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the ceasefire in southwest Syria, brokered by the US and Russia.
During a visit to Paris, Netanyahu said the “de-escalation zone” does not adequately address Iranian military ambitions in the area.
Israel has insisted that Iranian and Iranian-supported forces such as Hezbollah be kept away from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Before the announcement of the ceasefire, Israel attacked Assad regime positions on three occasions, citing rockets fired into the Golan Heights.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Russia has acted quickly to take advantage of a shift by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, proclaiming that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad must remain in power.
On Friday, at the conclusion of the seventh round of the Geneva political talks, De Mistura put the emphasis on “counter-terrorism” rather than political transition — opposed by Assad if he has to relinquish power. De Mistura said that the regime delegation had given no indication that it would discuss transition.
Yesterday the Russian Ambassador in Geneva, Alexei Borodavkin, followed up with a proclamation of positive developments. He put pressure on the opposition High Negotiations Committee by declaring a “correction” in its approach: “The goal of the opposition has been somehow changed. Now they speak not about toppling the legitimate government led by Bashar Assad but about reaching agreements with him on a political reform.”
Borodavkin warned of “extremist-minded elements that demand, though in a low voice, [Assad’s] departure” but added that the HNC and its foreign supporters realized that “peace” — Assad’s continued hold on power — must occur before any political reforms can be negotiated:
Finally, it seems that even the radically-minded opposition members and their foreign sponsors understand that first peace should be established in Syria. And then an agreement may be reached on a political reform as soon as the situation in the country normalizes.
He added that the success of the opposition — including smaller “Moscow” and “Cairo” factions favored by the Russians, as well as the HNC — depended on its willingness to accept the regime’s priorities:
If they will be ready to make deals with the government delegation, that is one thing. If they again slide into… ultimatums and preconditions that are not realistic, then this will not fly. This will lead the negotiations, be it direct or indirect, into a deadlock.
Borodavkin then heaped praise on De Mistura for the tilt that put “counter-terrorism” — a term used by the Assad regime for much of the opposition and rebels — above any engagement of the reforms such as a new Constitution and free and fair elections:
We have always supported and are supporting efforts of the special envoy, his team and his office. They show, especially recently, that they are focused on active assistance to the negotiating process, they are acting in a quite balanced manner and seeking opportunities to move ahead. Basing on the main players’ common opinion, they are putting forward new balanced and right proposals.
In Letter to UN, 8 States Counter Smear Campaign Against White Helmets
Eight member states have written the UN Security Council to highlight “misleading and inaccurate allegations against the Syria Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets”.
The eight — Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the US — responded to a May submission by Russia, “White Helmets: Fact or Fiction”, trying to smear the volunteer group as an ally of terrorists and extremists.
The letter explains that the White Helmets, who have saved almost 100,000 lives are “first responders where there are none”, that they deliver essential public services, and that “they bear witness to the systematic human rights violations and possible war crimes” of the Assad regime.
It notes that the smear campaign against the force has accompanied the sustained Russian-regime attacks on medical services throughout opposition territory, destroying scores of hospitals, clinics, and civil defense centers and killing hundreds of people. Almost 200 White Helmets volunteers have been slain and almost 500 wounded.
— kristyan benedict (@KreaseChan) July 14, 2017