UN, Assad gov’t talk over ‘fragile truce’
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Russia's RIA new agency, in Damascus, Syria in this handout file picture provided by SANA on March 30, 2016 - Reuters photoUnited Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura has said he used a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on April 11 to urge Damascus to support Syria’s shaky truce and allow more humanitarian aid access.
“We did raise and discuss the importance of protecting and maintaining and supporting the cessation of hostilities, which is, as you know, fragile but is there,” de Mistura told reporters in Damascus, according to Reuters.
The truce, which was brokered by the United States and Russia, does not include areas where jihadist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front are present.
The special ambassador said the upcoming round of negotiations in Geneva aimed at ending the country’s five-year war would be “crucially important.”
“The Geneva talks’ next phase are crucially important because we will be focusing in particular on the political transition, on governance and constitutional principles,” de Mistura told reporters after meeting Muallem, according to AFP.
“We hope and plan to make them constructive and we plan to make them concrete,” the envoy said.
Scheduled to resume on April 13, the Geneva talks are aimed at ending a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes since it erupted in March 2011.
The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in December 2015 which paved the way for the talks and called for elections in Syria to be held 18 months after a transitional government is agreed.
The fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a major sticking point, however.
While the opposition insists al-Assad can play no role in a future transitional government, the regime says voters should decide his fate.
According to state news agency SANA, Muallem confirmed the government delegation was ready for the next round of peace talks.
“Muallem reaffirmed in his meeting with De Mistura the Syrian position on the political solution to the crisis and the commitment to Syrian dialogue under Syrian leadership, without pre-conditions,” the agency said.
De Mistura and Muallem also discussed humanitarian aid access to besieged areas, the envoy said.
The envoy also hailed the U.N. World Food Programme’s “promising” first successful airdrop on April 10 on Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, where 200,000 people live under ISIL siege.
ISIL took back control of the town of al-Rai near Turkey, which rival rebels had captured last week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, AFP reported.
Al-Rai is regarded as ISIL’s key supply route from neighboring Turkey.
Rebels fighting ISIL had taken al-Rai last week following two days of clashes.
“The fact that the rebels could not hold on to al-Rai shows that it is impossible to maintain an advance against ISIL without adequate air cover,” said Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory.
Syrian, Russian and U.S.-led coalition warplanes are all staging separate air campaigns in the war-torn country.
Al-Nusra and allied rebels pushed offensives around northern, central and coastal Syria on April 11, triggering a spike in violence that could threaten the truce ahead of the peace talks, a monitoring group said.
“Al-Nusra and allied rebel groups are waging three synchronized offensives” on front lines in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces, Rahman told AFP.
So far, they have seized a hilltop in Latakia province, the heartland of al-Assad’s Alawite sect, the group said.