Uptick in Syria violence rattles Geneva negotiations

Uptick in Syria violence rattles Geneva negotiations
Video: Frequent violation of the ceasefire in Syria provokes doubts over the Assad regime's commitment to Geneva talks.
3 min read
25 February, 2017
Syrian government representatives and delegates from opposition groups have warned that intensified violence in Syria threaten the peace talks in Geneva.

Despite opening the anticipated peace negotiations with a special ceremony on Thursday, no actual talks have taken place so far. Chief mediator Staffan de Mistura is still trying to forge an agreement on how the talks should be arranged.

This is the first time in 10 months that any negotiations have been attempted, and tension is high. A supposed cease-fire, brokered with the support of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, is being frequently violated by regime forces and the opposition.

The Syrian airforce attacked towns to the east of Damascus today, killing six, and a further air raid in Hama has killed a family of four, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On the same day, suicide bombers attacked government security headquarters in Homs killing more than 30 soldiers, including the local security chief, in an apparent attempt to stall the negotiations.

Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said the attack in Homs would "not pass unnoticed" and was a direct attack on the Geneva talks.

Basma Kodmani, a negotiator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), told Reuters that opposition groups in support of the talks had kept to the ceasefire, but doubted the Assad regime's commitment to the deal, as well as Russian will to enforce it.

"The use of napalm yesterday and today massive air bombings on the suburb of Waer of Homs city. That is giving us very negative intentions about what the regime's intentions are," she said.

Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari said the attack in Homs would "not pass unnoticed" and was a direct attack on the Geneva talks.

Assad's government has controlled the majority of Homs since 2014, but opposition forces still control al-Waer, which the airforce bombed on Saturday. The Syrian Observatory said the attack injured 50 people.

"If nothing is happening here in Geneva, I fear that the ceasefire even for the opposition is going to collapse," said Kodmani. "Where is Russia to get compliance again from the regime so that the talks in Geneva can take place?"

Mediator De Mistura could do little more than hand out a draft procedural paper at the intended talks on Friday.

"To get them in the room is symbolic. But there is no way you can get anything out of that at the moment unless you have the beginning of an agreement between the backers," said De Mistura.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.