News / Middle East

Syria's Warring Sides Fight for Position Ahead of Talks

People run after what activists said was the return of government jet planes in Aleppo's al-Marja district December 23, 2013. More than 300 people have been killed in a week of air raids on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and nearby towns by PresidentPeople run after what activists said was the return of government jet planes in Aleppo's al-Marja district December 23, 2013. More than 300 people have been killed in a week of air raids on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and nearby towns by President
x
People run after what activists said was the return of government jet planes in Aleppo's al-Marja district December 23, 2013. More than 300 people have been killed in a week of air raids on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and nearby towns by President
People run after what activists said was the return of government jet planes in Aleppo's al-Marja district December 23, 2013. More than 300 people have been killed in a week of air raids on the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and nearby towns by President
Rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and government forces are trying to improve their battlefield positions in the remaining weeks before peace talks are due to take place in Geneva between the warring sides, analysts say.
 
The U.S.-Russian backed talks, dubbed Geneva 2, are slated to begin in late January and aim to reach an agreement to end a civil war now in its third year.  Who will attend the peace conference remains in doubt.
 
But since plans for the talks evolved late in 2013, fighting on the battlefield has intensified.
 
With government offensives underway in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and in the suburbs south of Damascus taking their toll, the main Western-backed opposition group is threatening once again not to participate in talks.
 
The heightened battlefield action is being matched with an increased tempo in diplomatic maneuverings.
 
French President François Hollande recently held talks in Riyadh with the Saudi Arabian monarch, King Abdullah, and Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba. Afterwards, France’s leader warned that Geneva 2 must “must not result in the prolongation” of the Assad regime.
 
Hollande urged the Western-backed Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) to take part in the peace conference.

Airstrikes in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo killed 541 people and wounded 3,039 people from December 15 to 28, according to local medical sources, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières said today.
 
“It is now clearer than ever just how harsh and tense the race in Syria is between the battle and politics, between the field and the table,” said Lebanese columnist and television show host Jean Aziz.
 
The effort to change the balance of military power – what analysts like to call the “facts on the ground” – has seen fierce fighting in the southern suburbs of Damascus.
 
Until the autumn, rebels controlled an arc of suburbs to the south of the capital but have lost ground to Syrian government forces.
 
In recent days the suburb of Ghouta has seen heavy skirmishing with the rebels trying to dislodge Syrian troops in order to threaten Damascus International Airport.
 
The most threatening offensive is unfolding around Aleppo, the country’s onetime commercial hub, which has been divided between government forces and rebels for more than a year.
 
After a long stalemate in which little territory changed hands, rebels have been pressed on the eastern approaches to the city after Assad forces retook a handful of strategic outlying towns in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
 
For two weeks now government aerial attacks - mainly involving helicopters dropping so-called barrel bombs filled with high explosive and fuel –  have pummeled rebel areas. Human rights groups have condemned the Syrian air force’s use of barrel bombs, arguing that as an indiscriminate weapon they breach international laws of war.
 
On December 28, a barrel bomb dropped on a crowded market left more than 20 dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group.
 
The barrel-bomb attacks have angered the SNC, prompting a threat to boycott Geneva talks.
 
The invitation list for peace-talk participants remains the subject of much diplomatic wrangling.
 
Syria is insisting that its key foreign ally Iran participate. Twenty-six countries have been invited but Iran as yet has not been asked.
 
“Syria is committed to Iran joining the peace conference,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who is likely to lead the Syrian government team at Geneva, told the country’s official news agency SANA.
 
“It is illogical that the United States or the so-called opposition excludes this country from the conference for political reasons,” he said.
 
Before Christmas, United Nations peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters that no agreement had been reached about Iran’s participation. The following day, his boss, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, urged that the objections to Iran’s involvement be dropped.
 
Even if the SNC and Iran do participate, Islamist militias that broke away from the Western-backed opposition group frown on any negotiations with Assad.
 
The leader of the most powerful rebel group in Syria, Ahrar al-Sham, has warned that he will not recognize any agreement reached in Geneva. Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Hassan Aboud said: “Whatever comes out of it, is binding only on the Syrian National Coalition. As far as we are concerned, we will continue the revolution until we restore our rights and our dignity.”
 
Differences over what the objectives are for Geneva 2 are also plaguing the run-up to the peace conference.
 
he rebels and Western powers see the goal as agreeing to a transition of power with Assad playing no further role. Syrian government officials, however, have voiced a different objective that would prolong the regime and with Assad standing for re-election.
 
French officials have triggered a behind-the-scenes diplomatic debate about whether a post-war Syria should be modeled on a formal federal system as adopted in neighboring Iraq or on a Lebanese power-sharing system that seeks to protect all religious sects, British diplomatic sources said.
 
But some Syria observers remain skeptical, arguing that French discussions on the form of governance are premature.
 
“I don’t think that Geneva 2 has any hope of moving forward,” said former CIA chief Michael Hayden.
 
But U.S. and European officials continue to voice optimism saying the obstacles to the talks can be overcome.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
January 01, 2014 3:18 AM
Of course the civilians of Syria will dislike assad even more if he destroys their cities, heritage, kills civilians and turns their city to dust. This is an atrocity indiscriminately dropping bombs in civilian populated areas with weapons that are made to kill anyone anywhere. These conventional weapons are worse than gas, it turns the city to dust and murders.
In Response

by: Samantha G. from: USA
January 01, 2014 7:12 AM
but this is the way Arabs treated Arabs since Biblical times... only Arabs know how worthless are the lives of other Arabs.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs