PHOTO: An opposition-rebel spokesman briefs the press at the Astana political talks, January 2017


The High Negotiations Committee will soon announce its delegates for the next set of political talks involving the Assad regime, planned for Geneva on February 20.

HNC spokesman Salim al-Muslit said on Saturday that the 20 members have been selected. Another officials said Nasr al-Hariri of the Syrian National Coalition will lead the group.

At the resumption of discussions in the Kazakhstan capital Astana in late January, Mohammad Alloush of the rebel faction Jaish al-Islam was the chief negotiator. Muslit said rebel factions will continue to be involved in Geneva as well as Kurdish, Turkmen, and Christian representatives: “It is a military political delegation and it represents everyone. Each component will nominate the person it finds suitable.”

Twenty legal advisors will accompany the negotiators, he added.

Russia, which along with Turkey have brokered the renewed talks following the re-occupation of Aleppo city by pro-Assad forces and a nominal ceasefire, have balanced the process with the presentation of an alternative “opposition”. Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met politicians and activists favored by Moscow, including Louay Hussein, Randa Kassis, and Qadri Jamil.

The UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has hinted that some of the alternative group could be brought to Geneva, at one point declaring that the UN would choose the opposition delegates if they could not agree “to make sure that [the group] can be as inclusive as possible”. However, Moscow has not yet pressed for the faction to be seated at Geneva.

The initial talks in Astana yielded no progress, with the regime delegation =– led by UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari — calling the opposition-rebel bloc “terrorists” and President Assad ruling out any transitional government and his eventual departure from power.

The opposition-rebel group is pressing for a meaningful ceasefire, release of political detainees, and end to sieges before discussion of the transitional process. Well-placed sources say rebel groups do not expect any movement by the regime, but are continuing with the talks to show the world that Assad is responsible for continued bloodshed and abuses.

Report: Kurdish Party PYD Arrests More Members of Kurdish National Council

The Syrian Kurdish outlet ARA News says three more members of the Kurdish National Council have been arrested by security forces linked to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

The PYD has denied the claim that the three men were detained on Wednesday and Thursday in separate incidents in northeastern Syria.

The PYD has periodically seized KNC members, including at least 30 last August during the funeral of a peshmerga fighter killed who was killed near Mosul in Iraq. PYD officials in the Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) self-administration accused the KNC of organizing an unauthorized demonstration.

Last Tuesday, six KNC members were released in Syria’s northeastern Qamishli city after months in an Asayish prison.

However, the KNC does not recognize the local administrations and refuses to ask their permission for holding protests or other political or cultural activities. As a result, tensions have ensued and several members of the KNC have been arrested by the Self-Administration’s Asayish forces in the past.

Reports: Free Syrian Army Bans Jarablus Council After Niqab Decision

Multiple reports say the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army has dissolved the local council in Jarablus in northern Syria, arresting the council president.

The FSA reportedly intervened followed the council’s decision to ban the niqab, the full-face covering for females, in schools.

A senior member of the rebel faction Ahrar al-Sham called the council “shabiha” — the term for unofficial pro-Assad militia — following the ban.

Turkish-Rebel Offensive Moves on Al-Bab From 3 Sides

The Turkish-rebel offensive has moved on ISIS-held al-Bab from a third side, with the capture of the Shehabi Farms at the northern edge:

The offensive, begun in early December, had struggled to advance against fierce Islamic State resistance; however, in the past week it has moved to the eastern outskirts of the town and entered the western gate.

The gains have renewed the prospect that the Turkish-rebel forces will occupy the town before a pro-Assad assault, closing from the south, will be able to do so.

Turkey said one of its soldiers was killed and three wounded in the latest operations. It claimed more than 200 Islamic State targets and buildings were struck by ground and air attacks.

Al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo city, is the last major Islamic State position in Aleppo Province.

See Syria Daily, Feb 10: Russian Strikes Kill Turkish Soldiers Near Al-Bab

Fighter at Shehabi Farms: