PHOTO: Syrian President Assad and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
The diplomatic arena takes over Syria’s news this week, with Wednesday’s international conference in Switzerland.
The effort for the meeting — led by the US, Russia, and the United Nations — finally succeeded in getting some legitimacy as a forum for all sides in the conflict. The Syrian National Coalition agreed on Saturday to attend, although it then threatened withdrawal over a UN invitation to Iran.
The Coalition was divided over its acceptance, with less than half of the 120 members in support and more than one-third withdrawing in protest. Leading insurgent factions also rejected the conference, and Syria’s domestic opposition said attendance would be “suicide”.
On the battlefield, the leading story is still the fight between the insurgency and the Islamic State and as-Sham, now in its 3rd week. News is sketchy and often unconfirmed, but ISIS appeared to take back some territory in Aleppo Province, such as Al Bab and Jarablus, while the insurgents were more successful in eastern Syria and Idlib Province.
Humanitarian crises continued to hold attention. In Yarmouk in southern Damascus, where aid workers say more than 50 people have died of starvation and lack of medical care, Palestinian organizations finally carried out two aid deliveries; however, sources said the amount of food was small. State media claimed up to 600 seriously ill residents would be evacuated from the neighborhood, home to about 18,000 people.
Other besieged areas, such as Moadamiya, continued in a state of limbo amid talk of “truces” to allow aid deliveries, while some cease-fires, including the Damascus suburb of Barzeh, appeared to be holding.
While the US and Russia finally obtained a bit of legitimacy for the “Geneva II” conference with the Syrian National Coalition’s agreement to participate, the meeting is unlikely to bring any political results.
Even if the Coalition can find some common ground with the Syrian regime — unlikely given the opposition demand for President Assad to give up power — many in the opposition and most of the insurgency will not recognize any conference statement.
Moreover, the gathering could feature division between opposing international camps. Washington and Moscow have tried to bridge differences, but Saudi Arabia, the leading backer of the insurgency and almost overlooked in the run-up to the conference, has shown no sign of compromise over its anti-Assad position. That could pose a challenge for European members of the “Friends of Syria” — Britain has stood with the US, while France has been more sympathetic to Riyadh’s position — other Gulf States, and Turkey.
By the end of the week, the question is likely to be what diplomatic maneuvers are taken after the failure of the conference. Look for a Russian attempt to seize the diplomatic high ground, blaming the “extremists” in the opposition and unnamed foreign backers for the continued conflict. And watch the US to see if it edges towards Moscow’s stance.
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