Syrian opposition “ready” to mqke these peace talks a success
Dueling sides of Syria’s gruesome civil war are meeting in Geneva in hopes of ending the bloodshed. But they’re not meeting with one another.
Instead, a U.N. special envoy is trying to find common ground between the parties before thousands more people are killed.
On Sunday, special envoy Staffan de Mistura will meet with members of the main Syrian opposition group, called the High Negotiations Committee.
De Mistura has met with representatives of the Syrian regime, but said that two-hour meeting was mainly preparatory — and that any substantive talks would have to wait until the opposition group arrives.
That group said it’s eager to make progress.
“We are here, we are ready to make this a success, we are ready to start negotiations,” High Negotiations Committee spokesman Salim al-Muslat said.
But the odds are formidable. Two prior rounds of peace talks have yielded no lasting ceasefire. Two prior U.N. special envoys trying to forge peace in Syria have come and gone. And all the while, the civil war that has claimed more than 300,000 lives rages on.
What the resolution says
De Mistura is trying to get everyone on board with a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted last month. According to the resolution, the UNSC calls for:
- An immediate stop in violence against civilians
- A Syrian-led political process facilitated by the U.N. that would establish “credible, inclusive, and nonsectarian governance” within six months and would schedule the drafting of a new constitution
- Free and fair elections, in accordance to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months
- An inclusive transitional governing body formed with mutual consent
- Safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid groups to reach Syrians in need
But the crisis won’t be easy to solve. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has offered no indication he will step aside. And opposition members continue demanding an end of 44 years of Assad family rule.
The current talks are the first time in two years that the warring sides in Syria are meeting in an effort to end the crisis there. The goal is a nationwide ceasefire agreement among all factions other than ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated al Nusra Front.
This round of peace talks began Friday after a series of delays. They were initially set to begin last Monday, but were held up because of ongoing discussions about who should represent the opposition, de Mistura said.
The U.N. special envoy has said his mandate is to involve “the broadest possible spectrum of the opposition.”
Opposition members have listed their own demands for the regime. They say they want an end to aerial bombardments; humanitarian access to beleaguered areas; and the release of prisoners, particularly women and children.
More starvation deaths
As warring parties try to work toward an agreement, many Syrian civilians are on the brink of starvation.
The United Nations says 400,000 Syrians badly need food aid.
St least 16 people have died of starvation in the city of Madaya in the past few weeks, said the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders. Those deaths came even after the city received three rare aid convoys of food and medical supplies.
In addition to the starvation deaths, there are 320 cases of malnutrition, the group said.
“It is totally unacceptable that people continue to die from starvation, and that critical medical cases remain in the town when they should have been evacuated weeks ago,” MSF Director of Operations Brice de le Vingne said.
Madaya is a rebel-held city that has been choked off by government blockades and landmines.