Russian envoy says troops could be deployed in two to three weeks in “buffer zones”
Russia has said that it may put troops into Syria’s opposition areas to police four “de-escalation zones”.
As the Russians convened with Turkey and Iran in the Kazakh capital Astana, Moscow’s Alexander Lavrentiev said the forces could be deployed within two to three weeks, after the signature of documents on Wednesday.
Russia is portraying the deployment as one for “buffer zones” between regime-controlled areas and the opposition; however, Turkey and Russia said last month that they envisaged forces going into opposition-held Idlib Province in northwest Syria. Sources connected with the rebels and opposition immediately said the suggestion was not viable.
The Assad regime’s delegation, led by UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari, met Russian officials on Tuesday. Ja’afari said before the encounter, “We are still in the framework of diplomatic discussion on how to bring attitudes closer and find common denominators to focus on them for building a unified position. We are still in the beginning, and we have not yet finished discussing the mechanisms related to implementing the agreement.”
The opposition has criticized Iran for not being a reliable guarantor of any arrangement — given that Iranian-led foreign militias are now leading the Assad regime’s military effort on the ground — and said that Russia cannot be trusted to rein in the regime.
Russia, joined by Turkey and Iran, first put forward the four de-escalation zones at an Astana meeting in May. They include Idlib Province and parts of neighboring Hama, Aleppo, and Latakia Provinces; part of Homs Province; the Damascus suburbs; and part of southern Syria, including areas in Daraa Province.
Pro-Assad forces have continued air and ground attacks, notably in the East Ghouta area near Damascus and in and near Daraa city.
On Monday, the regime military said it was halting combat operations from noon Sunday until the end of Thursday for “reconciliation” efforts and the Astana talks.
A Syrian opposition official said on Tuesday of the latest discussions:
The aim is to set out the areas of influence between the three states that sponsor it, and it embodies the interests of these states and their areas of influence on the ground, unfortunately with an intended American absence and suspicious European silence.
It will succeed in the north because the desire of the states and their interests dictate that, and if we want to interpret it on the Syria-wide level, it represents the strengthening of Russian and Iranian influence on the ground.
Riad Nassan Agha, a member of the High Negotiations Committee, added, “What they are talking about [de-escalation] did not happen. So the Syrian people no longer have faith in these agreements that happened in Astana.”
Lavrentiev said he would meet Syrian opposition delegates on Wednesday.
The statement from the Southern Front rebel bloc rejecting the Astana talks:
— Issam Al Reis (@south_front_sy) July 4, 2017
The Jaish al-Islam faction joined the Free Syrian Army in the refusal to attend discussions. Mohammad Alloush, who was at the initial talks in January, issued the declaration:
Based on our ardent will to save the Syrians’ blood and to meet our promises before our guarantor states, we committed to and abode by the ceasefire, but the other side did fulfill its commitment to its guarantor states.
The Assad regime continued pursuing policies of forcibly displacing Syrians in the opposition-held areas, one after the other, in addition to carrying out airstrikes, bombing civilians with all kinds of weapons in its attempts to occupy new areas despite all promises its representatives made in last Astana talks. Hence, negotiations in these circumstances have become useless.
Car Bomb in Idlib Province Kills 8, Including 5 Children
A car bomb at a school in opposition-held in western Idlib Province has killed eight people, including children.
A civil defense source said many others people were seriously wounded in the attack on the center teaching the Qur’an. Other sources claimed three senior jurists in the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham bloc were among the dead.
A recent bombing tried to assassinate Abdullah al-Moheisini, a Saudi cleric and senior Hayat Tahrir al-Sham judge, killing one of his companions.
Footage of the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack:
4 Syrians Die in Lebanese Custody After Raid on Refugee Camp
Four Syrians have died in Lebanese detention, following the recent raid by Lebanese forces of the Arsal refugee camp near the Syrian border.
Authorities said the men died of “health complications”, but critics said the bodies showed evidence of torture.
Lebanese army claims the four civilians arrested in army raid in Arsal refugee camp died from pre-existing health problems. Take a look. pic.twitter.com/pC8BT5Huuv
— Stork (@NorthernStork) July 5, 2017
The Lebanese army went into the camp for displaced Syrians on June 30, looking for “militants”. The military said they were confronted by five suicide bombers and a sixth attacker with a hand grenade. Seven soldiers were wounded and a 2 1/2-year-old daughter of refugees was killed.
However, activists have questioned if there were any attacks and said the Lebanese forces and Hezbollah beat and seized men from the camp. Photographs showed detainees with their faces to the ground, many bare-chested and handcuffed — the army subsequently maintained that mass detentions were necessary to combat terrorism.
A Lebanese military statement on said the four Syrians who died had chronic conditions that deteriorated because of soaring summer temperatures. They were transferred to a hospital for medical treatment immediately after their arrest but died before they could be interrogated.
Photos showed two of the bodies with heavy bruising on the face and abdomen. A third body was missing the head.
Relatives tried to prevent burials so autopsies could be conducted but the Arsal mayor ordered the bodies to be taken to the local cemetery.
Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said:
In light of the army’s own admission that the health condition of the detainees deteriorated while in custody, a formal, transparent and independent investigation must be launched.
In case of wrongdoing, those responsible for the deaths should be held accountable.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition also called for an investigation, claiming that at least 10 detained Syrians had died in custody.
UN Appoints French Judge to Prepare War Crimes Evidence
The UN has appointed a former French judge to prepare evidence that may eventually lead to trials over war crimes in Syria’s conflict.
Catherine Marchi-Uhel was named by UN Secretary General, António Guterres to lead the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism, created by a General Assembly resolution in December despite Russia’s opposition.
Marchi-Uhel was the principal legal adviser for the international tribunal in the former Yugoslavia, and was a judge on the United Nations-Cambodian tribunal prosecuting crimes during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
The legal team is expected eventually to have about 50 staff members, but has received only about half of the $13 million cost of its work in the first year.