The Latest: Renewed Syrian opposition insists Assad must go
BEIRUT (AP) — The latest on the civil war in Syria (all times local):
The head of the revamped Syrian opposition says President Bashar Assad’s government is afraid of political negotiations and insists it wants his departure before any political transition can start.
Nasr al-Hariri spoke Monday evening to reporters in Geneva a day before the start of the eighth round of U.N.-mediated talks since early 2016, which have yet to produce face-to-face negotiations.
Al-Hariri says the opposition that was re-assembled and broadened days ago is “here to negotiate.”
He says that some within the broader opposition believe a demand for Assad’s departure amounts to a “precondition” for talks, but he says the goal is to have such a departure before the start of any transition process.
U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council earlier that no sides should come with any preconditions for the talks.
The U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are urging the Syrian government to participate in U.N.-led talks starting Tuesday aimed at reaching a political settlement of the six-year war.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told the council Monday that President Bashar Assad’s government has not yet confirmed it will take part in the talks but members of a united opposition delegation were already arriving in Geneva.
Asked whether Guterres is concerned that Syria has not announced its attendance, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “This is a moment of truth for the Syria talks. We obviously think the participation of the Syrian government is important.”
Italy’s U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, the current council president, said members “urged all Syrian parties to participate actively and with no preconditions to the Geneva process.”
He said council members reiterated “full support” for de Mistura’s efforts “to facilitate a lasting political settlement of the Syrian crisis through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”
The U.N. special envoy for Syria says his plan for talks in Geneva, assuming the Syrian government participates, focuses on the end goal of a 2012 road map adopted by major powers — free and fair elections under U.N. supervision with Syrians everywhere eligible to vote.
Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council Monday that the plan would work backward, saying elections must be preceded by the drafting and popular ratification of a new constitution.
This would put off one of the contentious issues between the government and opposition — the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The road map, approved by the Security Council, calls for the creation of a transitional Syrian government with full executive powers followed by the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
De Mistura said the government has not confirmed its attendance at the Geneva talks scheduled to start Tuesday, but the opposition delegation agreed to a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is arriving.
He stressed that “we will not accept any preconditions by either party.”
The U.N. special envoy for Syria says President Bashar Assad’s government has not confirmed its participation in talks with the opposition aimed at ending the six-year conflict which are scheduled to start Tuesday.
Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council Monday that the government didn’t commit to attending the U.N.-led Geneva talks during meetings with his deputy over the weekend in Damascus.
He said the government “indicated we would be hearing from them soon,” and Sunday night “we received a message that the government would not travel to Geneva today.”
De Mistura said “naturally we hope and indeed expect that the government will be on its way shortly.”
He said he expects the government’s participation “particularly in light of president Assad’s commitment to (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin when they met in Sochi.”
A Russian state news agency says Moscow is pushing back its own Syria talks between the government and opposition until next year.
RIA Novosti, citing an unidentified “diplomatic source,” says the so-called “Syrian National Congress” will be held no earlier than January, and most likely in February, in Sochi.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war two years ago turned the tide in President Bashar Assad’s favor. It remains a key sponsor of the Damascus government and has shielded it against sanctions and interventions in the U.N. Security Council.
Russia’s diplomats never set a date for the conference after spiking an initial plan to hold it on Nov. 18. But after President Vladimir Putin hosted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Nov. 22, there was speculation it would bring the Syrian government and a coalition of opposition groups for talks in Sochi in December, in parallel with U.N. talks between the two sides in Geneva.
Syria’s government has said it will attend talks in Sochi. It has not committed to talks in Geneva, which are supposed to start Tuesday. The opposition says it prefers to meet the government under the auspices of the U.N
Syria and its allies have clashed with other nations at the annual conference of member states of the global chemical weapons watchdog, underscoring how politicized the body has become since Damascus joined.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad used the opening day of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons meeting to denounce an international investigation that last month accused Damascus of launching a deadly sarin attack in April.
European Union representative Jacek Bylica, however, said Monday that the investigation’s report showed “a clear case of violation” of the treaty outlawing chemical weapons and said “the perpetrators of such horrific crimes must be held accountable.”
Russia, Syria’s staunch ally, recently vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have extended the mandate, which expired earlier this month, of the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mission.
Syrian activists say government airstrikes and shelling have killed at least 19 civilians in Damascus suburbs where rebels have held out against government forces throughout the nearly seven years of the country’s civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that government jets and artillery launched a wave of attacks in the Eastern Ghouta area on Sunday. The observatory says that by midday, 19 people were killed.
The locally-run Ghouta Media Center says 22 civilians have been killed.
Conditions are dire inside the area, which is suffering from shortages of food and medicine due to the tightening government blockade. The U.N. says there are some 350,000 people in need of immediate relief in Eastern Ghouta.
Earlier this month, Syrian rebels attacked a nearby military installation in the area.