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UPDATE, 2045 GMT: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn the invitation for Iran to attend Wednesday’s international “peace” conference on Syria.
The withdrawal came after Tehran declared it did not support the June 2012 “Geneva I” political transition deal, which was interpreted as requiring the departure of President Assad.
“(Ban) continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communiqué,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, [Ban] has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation.”
The opposition Syrian National Coalition, which had threatened to rescind its acceptance of the conference if Iran was invited, immediately said it would go to Switzerland on Wednesday.
“We appreciate the United Nations and (UN secretary general) Ban Ki-moon’s understanding of our position. We think they have taken the right decision. Our participation is confirmed for 22 January,” said Monzer Akbik, Chief of Staff of Coalition President Ahmed Jarba.
UPDATE, 1945 GMT: The issue of Iran’s participation at the “Geneva II” conference is still mired in confusion and uncertainty, following objections from Syrian opposition groups and thereluctance of the US.
A United Nations spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said that Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who issued the invitation to participate to Tehran on Sunday “is currently urgently considering his options in light of the disappointing reaction of some participants”.
Nesirky said Ban is in contact with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The spokesman said Ban “is dismayed by the developments regarding participation in the Geneva conference”, with an apparent breakdown over the condition that Tehran accept the Geneva I plan of June 2012 — including the provision that President Assad step down for a transitional governing authority:
Iran, despite assurances provided orally to the secretary general, has made a disappointing public statement that suggests Iran does not accept [Geneva I].
A day after voting to participate in Wednesday’s international conference in Switzerland, Syria’s opposition National Coalition has threatened to withdraw over a United Nations invitation to Iran.
The Coalition has set a deadline for Monday evening:
Reuters Exclusive: Western-backed Syrian opposition says will only attend peace talks in Geneva if Iran invitation withdrawn by 1900 GMT
— Dan Williams (@DanWilliams) January 20, 2014
The opposition said it would go to the conference only if Iran “publicly states that it is withdrawing its forces, committing to the Geneva 1 agreement in full” — effectively accepting that President Assad must step down — “and committing to implementing any results of Geneva 2”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that he had invited Tehran, an ally of the Assad regime, to attend the first day of talks after Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif pledged to play a “positive and constructive role”:
He has assured me that, like all the other countries invited to the opening-day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June, 2012, Geneva communique.
“The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in Geneva II unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation,” spokesman Louay Safi responded via Twitter.
Another senior member, Anas al-Abdah, said the Coalition was “surprised”: “[The invitation] is illogical and we cannot in any way accept it.”
The US has long maintained opposition to Iran’s formal participation in discussions, but on Sunday it indicated this could change — provided Tehran explicitly declares its support of the June 2012 plan for a transition in which Assad would leave power.
“This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded.”
On Monday afternoon, Washington reiterated that Tehran must meet the condition — raising the possibility that the US would again veto Iran’s formal participation:
US off'l tells me US communicated to UN Iran not yet made sufficient unambiguous public statement of support for Geneva1 Communique #Syria
— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) January 20, 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry had said earlier this month that Iran could “contribute on the sidelines”. The Islamic Republic rejected the opening, saying it was dishonorable to Tehran.
Saudi Arabia has objected strongly to any place for Iran in Switzerland:
Saudi says since #Iran didn't announce officially its agreement to creation of a transitional government, it's unwelcome at #Syria talks
— Teymoor Nabili (@teymoornabili) January 20, 2014
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov backed Iran’s involvement: “Not to ensure the presence at this event of all those who may directly influence the situation, I think, would be an unforgivable mistake.”
International Lawyers: Photographs & Files Could Prove Regime’s “Industrial-Style Killing”
A panel of three international lawyers has said regime officials could face war crimes charges over evidence of the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees.
The lawyers, former prosecutors at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, examined thousands of regime photographs and files recording deaths in custody of detainees from the start of the conflict in March 2011 to August 2013.
Most of the victims were young men and many corpses were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution.
The lawyers interviewed a photograph for the military police who worked secretly with a Syrian opposition group and later defected and fled the country. They said he was credible and truthful and his account “most compelling”.
The photographer, given the pseudonym “Caesar” told the investigators his job was “taking pictures of killed detainees”. He did not claim to have witnessed executions or torture:
The procedure was that when detainees were killed at their places of detention their bodies would be taken to a military hospital to which he would be sent with a doctor and a member of the judiciary, Caesar’s function being to photograph the corpses….There could be as many as 50 bodies a day to photograph which require 15 to 30 minutes of work per corpse….
The reason for photographing executed persons was twofold. First to permit a death certificate to be produced without families requiring to see the body, thereby avoiding the authorities having to give a truthful account of their deaths; second to confirm that orders to execute individuals had been carried out.
Families were told that the cause of death was either a “heart attack” or “breathing problems”.
The 31-page report was commissioned by the leading London law firm Carter Ruck for the Government of Qatar. It is being distributed to the United Nations, governments, and human rights groups ahead of Wednesday’s international “peace” conference.
Islamic Front, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Syrian Revolutionary Front Issue Statement On Geneva II
The Islamic Front, Jaish al-Mujahideen, and Syrian Revolutionary Front have issued a scathing statement ahead of the Geneva II conference.
The statement says, among other things, that the goal of the Syrian revolution was to recover the religious and humanitarian rights of the Syrian people.
The three groups said that they did not foresee the success of a political solution, “and we see the brutal regime and criminal its practices, have disrupted any chance to accomplish such a solution”.
The Assad regime, the statement said, is going to the conference amid “exploding barrel bombs, a sinful siege, and a systematic policy of starvation and brutality”, having tortured detainees to death, killing children and raping women, and committing genocide with chemical weapons.
Those attending Geneva II do not have a mandate from the Syrian people, the statement added.
The statement said that the parties would not accept any political solution before the following conditions were achieved:
1 Release detainees immediately, lift the siege on the blockaded areas, stop the brutal bombing in various areas of Syria, and facilitate the delivery of aid to all areas in Syria, do not prevent the return of displaced persons and displaced persons to their homes.
2 Assad must step down with the entire regime including its security apparatus. They must be held accountable.
3 -All “sectarian militias alien to Syrian society, which supported the regime in repression of our people” must leave.
10 Killed by Car Bomb Near Turkish Border
10 dead in car bomb attack near Bab ElHawa #Syria #Turkey border. #Turkey just closed the border.v @mohsarmini
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) January 20, 2014
Children are among the victims (Warning — Graphic Picture).
Video of aftermath (Warning — Graphic Images)
It is not yet clear who is responsible for the bomb attack. The military chief of the Islamic Front, Zahran Alloush, via his Twitter account, blamed ISIS, or “Dawlat al-Baghdadi” (“The State of Baghdadi”, a reference to ISIS leader al-Baghdadi):
فصيل دولة البغدادي ينفذ وعوده ويغجر سيارتين مفخختين قبل قليل في معبر باب الهوى تخلفان عشرات القتلى والجرحى من المسلمين السنة الذين يكفرهم
— زهران عبدالله علوش (@zahran1970) January 20, 2014
The official account of the Islamic Front did not apportion blame:
#فيديو انفجار سيارتين مفخختين في معبر باب الهوى وسقوط عشرات القتلى والجرحى http://t.co/vXICKKTHNc pic.twitter.com/YUvcmtklCo
— ألوية صقور الشام (@SQORALSHAM) January 20, 2014
However, insurgents and activists have blamed pro-Assad militias, known as shabiha, for an earlier car bomb attack on Bab al-Hawa in September that killed civilians, saying that the aim of the attack was to destabilize the crossing into Turkey.
A source notes that Bab al-Hawa is an important via which most humanitarian aid travels from Turkey into Syria, adding that both ISIS and the Assad regime would benefit from interrupting that route.
English Translation of Statement by ISIS Leader al-Baghdadi
Pieter Van Ostaeyen has posted an English translation of the statement by Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, summarized in Sunday’s Syria Daily, about this month’s fighting with insurgents.
While blaming insurgent faction for the clashes across northern and eastern Syria — “we did not want this war, or prepare for it” — al-Baghdadi called for reconciliation to fight the “common enemy” of “Shia and Nusayris (Alawites)”.
Assad “Significant Chance That I Stand for Re-Election”
President Assad told AFP on Sunday that he is likely to run for re-election in 2014:
I see no reason why I shouldn’t stand….(If) there is public desire and a public opinion in favor of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election.
In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant.
Assad said that, despite this week’s “peace” talks in Switzerland, he expected the civil war to continue as he waged a “fight against terrorism”:
What we can say is that we are making progress and moving forward. This doesn’t mean that victory is near at hand; these kinds of battles are complicated, difficult and they need a lot of time.
He dismissed the opposition as “created” by foreign powers and said the possibility of one of its members as Prime Minister in a transitional governing authority:
[They] come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they flee. How can they be ministers in the government?
These propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke!
Assad warned, “Should Syria lose this battle, that would mean the spread of chaos throughout the Middle East.”
He added that this week’s “Geneva II” conference must “produce clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism in Syria….Any political solution that is reached without fighting terrorism has no value.”
115 Killed on Sunday
For the second day in a row, activists report more than 100 people killed across Syria.
The Local Coordination Committees claim 115 deaths, including 70 in Aleppo Province and 25 in Damascus and its suburbs.
The Violations Documentation Center have recorded 85,048 deaths since the start of the conflict in March 2011. Of these, 62,712 were civilians.