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 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
    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

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    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.
    Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora