PHOTO: UN envoy Staffan de Mistura speaks to press on Tuesday in Geneva (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)


Frustrated by the Assad regime in his pursuit of political transition in Syria, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Tuesday that he is hoping for a breakthrough from a high-level US-Russian meeting.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Moscow on Wednesday for two days of discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

De Mistura said after meeting the opposition High Negotiations Committee in Geneva:

We are looking with great interest, expectation, hope that the talks in Moscow will be productive.

Honestly not everything will be solved in one day – but [it would be] productive…to resume the talks with a much more in-depth address on the issue of political transition.

Since talks resumed on March 14, the UN envoy has been frustrated by an Assad delegation that has refused to discuss any transition in which the Syrian President steps aside.

The head of the delegation, UN Ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari has put up a series of barriers to significant discussions of transition. He has said that he does not who “is representing the opposition delegation”. He has claimed the opposition-rebel HNC is filled with “terrorists” and said he will not talk to the HNC’s lead negotiation, rebel commander Mohammad Alloush, until he “shaves his beard”.

Officials and diplomats have said that a document presented by Jaafari to de Mistura last week, “Basic Elements for a Political Solution”, is “very thin”, “bland”, and “off the point”, with no mention of transition.

The UN envoy subsequently called on both sides to responds to a list of questions about the elements of a political resolution.

However, Jaafari has responded by accusing de Mistura of “filibustering” and “wasting time” by not giving a response to the “Basic Elements” document.

Opposition Warns of “Breaking Point”

Asaad al-Zoubi of the opposition-rebel HNC said on Tuesday it is “obvious that are no points of convergence” with the regime group. He warned:

There is a risk — and I don’t know where the breaking point is –– that if these talks go on without leading anywhere without coming close to the essential issue of transition, that surely there is a breaking point where the opposition will feel what is the use?.

Al-Zoubi said the regime, instead of de-escalating the conflict, has doubled the number of sieges on opposition towns and stepped up barrel bombing of areas such as East Ghouta near Damascus:

The government continues to flout international resolutions. Instead of lifting the sieges, the regime is tightening sieges on cities and…the regime is renewing again its barrel-bombing of Syrian towns.

Report: Al-Nusra Arresting East Hama Leaders for “Collaboration with Regime”

The jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra are arresting local leaders and accusing them of collaboration with the Assad regime, according to
Tariq Mohammed, a citizen journalist from eastern Hama Province.

The detentions come amid Russian and regime fighting with Nusra in the area, despite a February 27 cessation of hostilities.

Mohammad said 12 civilians, aged 30 to 50, from four villages were arrested on Monday. One of the detainees is a member of the Hama Provincial Council.

The journalist confirmed that the local leaders were meeting in secret with regime officials in Hama city to discuss reconciliation agreements. He said that they were offering money to residents to accept the arrangements, and that the Assad regime leaked news of the talks to show that people want to “push out militants”.

Mohammad said the men will be tried in a Sharia court.

US Government Charges Syrian Electronic Army Members With Conspiracies

US authorities have charged three Syrian nationals, all current or former members of the pro-regime Syrian Electronic Army, with multiple conspiracies related to computer hacking.

Two criminal complaints unsealed on Tuesday in a US District Court in Virginia named Ahmad Umar Agha, 22, known online as “The Pro”; Firas Dardar, 27, known online as “The Shadow”; and Peter Romar, 36.

Elements of the alleged conspiracy included “engaging in a hoax regarding a terrorist attack” and “attempting to cause mutiny of the US armed forces”, and hacking online businesses.

The court issued arrest warrants for all three defendants. The FBI announced that it is adding Agha and Dardar to its Cyber Most Wanted, offering a reward of $100,000 for information leading to their arrests.

Agha and Dardar are believed to be living in Syria.


Video: Concern Over Food and Medicine Shortages in Besieged Rastan

A report by al-Aan TV on humanitarian concerns over Rastan in northern Homs Province, where more than 100,000 residents are facing a regime siege and shortages of food and medicine:

Rastan is in an opposition-held pocket which the Syrian military and its allies have bombarded for years.

The opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee said on Tuesday that, despite political talks in Geneva, the Assad regime has increased the number of besieged towns from 13 to 25.