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Syria: stakeholders surprised by halt in talks


Syria

Syria: stakeholders surprised by halt in talks

  • Diplomatic dueling follows halt in talks
  • Talks torpedoed by ongoing fighting
  • Negotiations set to resume Feb 25

The news

Diplomats and opposition members say they were taken by surprised when the UN Special Envoy unexpectedly called a halt to peace talks in Geneva.

Staffan de Mistura also urged both sides to begin ceasefire negotiations.

There has been no official response from the government in Damascus.

The opposition says it will not negotiate unless the government stops bombing civilian areas, lifts blockades on besieged towns and releases detainees.

A senior UN official says Russian escalation was the main reason for the suspension of the Syria peace talks in Geneva.

Little progress has been made in the talks since they began on Monday.

The talks are aimed at bringing peace to Syria after 5 years of conflict.

On Wednesday night, special envoy Staffan de Mistura announced a three-week halt in the UN-mediated negotiations, saying they needed support from the rival sides’ international backers, principally the US and Russia.

An unnamed UN source told reporters that De Mistura halted the talks after the process was undermined by Russian military escalation.

What caused the halt?

On Wednesday, the Syrian Army and its allies broke a three-year siege in two key towns in the north-western province of Aleppo.

Analysts say this is a big blow for the opposition.

Opposition forces say the towns of Nubul and Zahraa were only seized after more than 500 raids by Russian military aircraft.

With an estimated population of 60000, they are connected to the Turkish border by areas under the control of Kurdish militias that gave them some access.

The context

Washington opposes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and supports his opponents.

Moscow says this means the US is supporting terrorists.

The US State Department says the air strikes around Aleppo focus mainly on Assad’s foes rather than on the militants from Islamic State Russia says it is trying to defeat.

Syrian opposition coordinator Riad Hijab said there would be no ceasefire until a transition without President Assad was in place.

He said the pause would give the West a chance to put pressure on the Assad government and for Russia to end their military activity.

He said he would not return until there was a change on the ground.

Government delegation chief Bashar al-Ja’afari accused the opposition of pulling out because it was losing.

“The military developments on the ground are crucial. I noticed the opposition decided to withdraw after the road to Nubul and Zahraa was re-opened.”

What they are saying

“The HNC delegation will leave Geneva tomorrow (4 February) and will not return to Geneva if the humanitarian demands of the Syrian people cannot be achieved.”Riad Hajib, Chief Negotiator of the opposition High Negotiations Commitee

“Failure, yes, there is a failure. It is a failure of everyone, except the government of the Syrian Arab Republic, because we responded positively to the invitation.” -*Bashar al-Jaafari, Head of Syrian Delegation*.

“I have indicated from the very first day that I will not talk for the sake of talking.”UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura

“I think the special envoy decided to suspend the talks because the UN did not want to be associated with the Russian escalation in Syria, which risks undermining the talks completely.”un-named senior UN official.

“I do not see why these air strikes should be stopped”Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“It is past time for them to meet existing obligations and restore the international community’s confidence in their intentions of supporting a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis.”US Secretary of State John Kerry

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