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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid