Car bomb kills governor of Hama

Updated 15 September 2013
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Car bomb kills governor of Hama

DAMASCUS: Syrian state television says a car bomb has killed the governor of the central province of Hama.
State TV says Anas Abdul Razaak Naem was assassinated Sunday in the Jarajima neighborhood of the city of Hama, the provincial capital. No further details were immediately available.
Assassinations of politicians, army officers and journalists who support Presidnet Bashar Assad’s regime are common in Syria’s civil war.
Syria reached an agreement with the United Nations on Sunday to allow a team of international experts to visit the site of alleged chemical weapons attacks last week outside Damascus, state media and the UN said.
A statement on Syrian state television said Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem and UN disarmament chief Angela Kane struck the deal during talks in Damascus, and that the two sides are working to finalize the date and time of the visit.
The world body said that a team of UN experts already in Syria has been instructed to focus on investigating the purported attack on Wednesday. The mission “is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities’” on Monday, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in the alleged toxic gas attack on the eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital. Images purporting to show the aftermath of the attack are filled with people gasping for breath and dead children unmarked by any wounds.
The eastern Ghouta area where the attack took place is under opposition-control, which makes arranging a trip across the front lines difficult. Rebels and the main Western-back opposition group have said they would guarantee access and the safety of a UN team to facilitate an investigation.
Nesirky said the Syrian government “affirmed that it will provide the necessary cooperation, including the observance of the cessation of hostilities at the locations related to the incident.”
He added that UN chief Ban Ki-moon “would like to reiterate that all relevant parties equally share the responsibility of cooperating in urgently generating a safe environment for the mission to do its job efficiently and providing all necessary information.”
The deal appears to meet the demands of the world powers, including the US, Britain, France and Russia, all of whom called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the UN and grant inspectors access to the sites.
Confirming whether chemical weapons were indeed used carries enormous stakes, and could play a large role in determining the future course of a Syrian conflict. It has reinvigorated debate about the possible use of foreign military action in Syria’s civil war.
Last week, France said that if an independent investigation confirms that chemical weapons were indeed employed, then military force could be used in Syria.
The UN team arrived in Syria last week to investigate three earlier purported chemical attacks. The mission is led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom.


Turkey may work with Syria’s Assad if elected fairly

Updated 29 min 44 sec ago
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Turkey may work with Syria’s Assad if elected fairly

  • Renewed Ankara-Damascus ties will contribute to reconstruction of Syrian cities through Turkish companies, says analyst
  • Mistrust between Ankara and Damascus remains a significant hurdle to smoother diplomatic relations

ANKARA: In a potentially major policy shift, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Sunday said Ankara will consider working with Syrian President Bashar Assad if he wins a free and fair election. 

Ankara had previously called on Assad to step down following the start of the uprising against him in 2011. 

There are suggestions that the U-turn may be due to Turkey’s opposition to growing Kurdish influence on both sides of the border.

“Turkey can’t solve the (Kurdish) Democratic Union Party (PYD) problem with the US alone,” said Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council. “A start of dialogue with Assad … seems like a logical step.” 

Turkey will also be driven by ambitions to install friendly political figures in the Syrian government, Akhmetov added.

“Renewed relations between Turkey and Syria will contribute to reconstruction of (Syrian) cities with Turkish companies and bilateral trade,” he said. 

A UN-led plan to draft reforms to Syria’s constitution, laying the ground for fresh elections, is expected to be established within weeks.

Under the plan, the Syrian regime will choose 50 members of the Constitutional Committee, with Turkey proposing 50 Syrian opposition members and the UN nominating a further 50 people — comprising academics, experts and civil society members — to oversee the reforms. 

Last week, Ankara said it will launch within days a military campaign east of the Euphrates River against the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), whose political wing is the PYD.

“Ankara may intend that Russia rhetorically supports such a campaign in exchange for a positive message about Assad’s theoretical chances of staying in power,” said Akhmetov. 

But mistrust between Ankara and Damascus remains a significant hurdle to smoother diplomatic relations. 

Last month, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad demanded that Turkish “occupation” forces leave the country. 

He said Damascus would not count on Turkish assurances because Ankara’s intentions are “colonial” and “expansionist.” 

Aron Lund, a Syria analyst at the Century Foundation, said he does not think Turkey’s expressed willingness to work with Assad constitutes a big change. 

“What Cavusoglu seems to be saying is that Syria should have a democratic election, as is called for in UN Security Council resolution 2254, and that the winner — even if it’s Assad — could be considered legitimate by Turkey,” he told Arab News. 

Cavusoglu simply responded to a hypothetical question, Lund said, adding: “For now, Turkey seems content to continue along the current course of action, working with Russia to secure its interests in Syria and relaying messages to Damascus through Moscow and Tehran.”

Ankara still refuses to talk directly to Damascus to seek an end to the conflict in Syria. Sinan Hatahet of Al-Sharq Forum in Istanbul said Turkey’s stance is conditional upon elections in Syria.

“Previously, Turkish officials made it clear that they don’t believe that the regime would let elections happen,” he told Arab News. 

“It’s still difficult to believe there will be any reconciliation between the parties for now.”