PHOTO: Head of Assad delegation, UN Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, talks to press on Monday in Geneva



“Scorched Earth” in Russian-Regime Offensive on Palmyra

UPDATE 1800 GMT: The opposition-rebel High Negotiations Council said that there is no basis for talks with the regime delegation after more than a week of negotiations

“We are not finding any common ground in the paper submitted by the government to UN special envoy [Staffan de Mistura],” said HNC representative Asaad al-Zoubi.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Despite a call by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to adopt a serious approach in negotiations over Syria’s crisis, the Assad regime’s delegation offered no prospect of an advance after Monday’s discussions.

De Mistura said over the weekend that he wanted “details” from the Assad group “on how they see the political transition taking place” to end the five-year conflict. He asserted that the delegation “could not avoid substantive questions forever”.

However, after meeting de Mistura yesterday, Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari raised doubts about any discussions with the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee, denouncing them as illegitimate because of the rebellion against President Assad’s rule:

How come there aren’t armed moderate opposition groups active on French, British, and US soil that are sponsored by other states? Why this discrimination against the Syrian people?…

It is not our problem, nor is it De Mistura’s that the Riyadh opposition delegation [the HNC] has terrorists in it….It is the problem of the International Syria Support Group that claims to be a group for supporting Syria, but in fact it isn’t.

He continued, “We don’t know until now how is representing the opposition delegation and who is the expert and who is the consultant, and this is a big obstacle for dialogue.”

Jaafari maintained that the HNC had not responded to the regime delegation’s “Basic Elements for a Political Solution”, presented to de Mistura last week.

Officials and diplomats have said that the document was “very thin”, “bland”, and “off the point”, with no mention of a political transition.

See also Syria Daily. March 21: Assad Regime “Stalling on Political Talks”

The Geneva talks, the second round of discussions this year, resumed on March 14. De Mistura has been holding sessions alternately with the regime and opposition-rebel groups.

The senior HNC negotiator, Mohammad Alloush, repeated on Monday that Assad’s departure from power is essential to any political resolution.

Russia Exploits Brussels Attack for Syria PR

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has seized on Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels, killing at least 26 people and wounding 136, to try and gain political advantage over Syria.

The Ministry tweeted, “You can’t support terrorists in one part of the planet & think they won’t come to others.”

See Belgium Developing: 26 Dead, 136 Injured in Explosions at Brussels Airport and Metro

Reports: Assad’s Brother Pushed Aside with Move Out of Elite Military Division

Well-placed sources in and near Syria have commented on reports that President Assad’s brother Maher has been moved out of command of the elite 4th Armored Division.

The reports began circulating last week on pro-regime Facebook pages such as that of the Latakia News Network: “Maher al-Assad has been transferred from the command of 4th Armored Division’s 42nd Brigade to the General Staff [of the Syrian Army].”

A pro-regime outlet, Al-Masdar News, has insisted that the transfer is a promotion, confirming his status as Major General.

However, the local sources explain that the move to the General Staff is a way to sideline Maher al-Assad without causing further humiliation. They say that similar steps have been used to curb other military or political officials, with one citing the case of President Assad’s uncle Rifaat, who was pushed aside by Assad’s father Hafez in the 1980s.