Syria peace talks resume amid shaky ceasefire

Sunday 17/04/2016
Asaad Al-Zoubi (C), head of Syrian opposition delegation of HNC

GENEVA - UN-brokered peace talks between the Syrian op­position and govern­ment resume in Geneva with President Bashar Assad’s fate an increasingly diffi­cult stumbling block to overcome.

The Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) ar­rived in Geneva on April 13th, the same day Syrians in government-controlled areas of the country vot­ed in parliamentary elections that have been explicitly rejected by the opposition and the West.

The government delegation ar­rived in Geneva on April 15th for the second round of the proximity talks, which will find UN Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura shuttling between the rival delegations.

“These elections aren’t real. In real elections, the voice of the peo­ple can be heard,” HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet said. “The Syrian people have been shouting for five years: What they want is a free, democratic, Syria.

“Syria’s future will not be de­cided by fake elections but by the people, following a political transi­tion. That is what we are in Geneva to negotiate.”

The wider question remains over the fate of Assad with the opposi­tion adamant that he cannot be part of any transition process and Damascus insisting that Assad re­mained a “red line”.

Asaad al-Zoubi, who heads the HNC delegation in Geneva, de­scribed Assad’s departure as a “necessity”. “Syria can only heal through the departure of Assad and emblematic figures of the regime,” he said in a televised news confer­ence ahead of the resumption of talks.

However, this is something the Assad government has repeatedly refused to countenance.

“This [Assad’s departure] will not happen, not now, nor tomor­row nor ever,” Syrian Deputy For­eign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Associated Press. “We believe such an idea has failed. It is outdat­ed. It will never be acceptable. We believe that if we have to proceed then… we need others to forget the dreams they had for the last five years and come with factual solu­tions.”

“We are going to go deeper and deeper into the issue of political transition,” de Mistura said after meeting the HNC, although many observers were not optimistic about the talks given the disconnect over Assad’s future and mounting re­ports of ceasefire violations.

US President Barack Obama on April 13th said the “cessation of hostilities” which was agreed in or­der to facilitate the talks was “tenu­ous and under strain”.

Dozens of government troops were killed April 12th in clashes with rebel forces near the northern city of Aleppo, the UK-based Syr­ian Observatory for Human Rights reported. This was one of a string of violations that strained the six-week partial ceasefire, with each side accusing the other of violating the truce.

The second-round of UN-bro­kered peace talks resumed in Geneva amid an atmosphere of uncertainty, with Bashar Assad’s ultimate fate an increasingly insur­mountable stumbling block and no resolution in sight.

Damascus has repeatedly refused to even discuss the prospect of As­sad stepping down from power, with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minis­ter Faisal Mekdad describing this as a “dream” on the first day of talks. “This [Assad’s departure] will not happen, not now, nor tomorrow nor ever,” he said.

While the Syrian opposition, led by the High Negotiations Commit­tee (HNC), has consistently said that it would not accept Assad’s presence in any future transition. Speaking before the start of the second round of proximity talks, Zoubi described Assad’s departure as a “necessity.” Speaking during a televised news conference ahead of the resumption of talks, he said: “Syria can only heal through the departure of Assad and emblematic figures of the regime.”