Syria vows no concessions as first round talks close

Updated 15 May 2014

Syria vows no concessions as first round talks close

GENEVA: Syria’s regime Friday vowed not to give any ground in peace talks with the opposition, as a first week of negotiations wrapped up with no concrete progress beyond a pledge to meet again.
“Neither in this round, nor in the next will they obtain any concessions from the Syrian delegation,” Information Minister Omran Al-Zohbi told pro-regime demonstrators outside the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva where the talks were held.
“They will not get through politics what they couldn’t get through force,” Zohbi insisted, as the applauding 250-strong crowd waved a huge Syrian flag and brandished pictures of President Bashar Assad.
Zohbi said his no surrender message was not only for the rebels, who he accused of “terrorism,” but also for their allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and anti-Assad groups in Lebanon.
Earlier, delegations from the Assad regime and the opposition National Coalition had sat down for their final meeting shortly after 11:00 a.m. (1000 GMT), the UN said.
UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has already said he does not expect the past week’s negotiations to produce “anything substantive,” and no major announcements were expected once the talks conclude in the early afternoon.
“The talks were obviously not a success,” Salman Shaikh, the head of the Brookings Doha Institute, told AFP.
But just getting the warring sides to sit down together for the first time since the conflict erupted in March 2011 is, however, was seen by many as an important step forward.
“The important thing is that the parties meet in the same room,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Berlin Thursday.
The foes have been brought together in Geneva in the biggest diplomatic push yet to end a civil war that has left more than 130,000 dead and forced millions from their homes.
That Brahimi has kept them talking for the past week, “sometimes in really strong terms,” will hopefully pave the way to a more constructive second round of talks, he said Thursday.
“The ice is breaking, slowly,” he insisted, stressing though that “the gap between them is quite large.”
In a stark reminder of the situation on the ground, nearly 1,900 people have been killed since the peace talks opened, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday.
The two sides were set to decide at Friday’s meeting when they will return to Geneva, likely in about a week.
Beforehand, Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba is set to attend the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, the delegations said.
He will then travel on to visit officials in Russia, one of the Syrian regime’s key international ally and arms supplier, in a bid to rally support.
It took months of pressure from Moscow and Washington, which backs the opposition, to bring the two sides together, and Brahimi has called on them and others to exercise their influence to end the bloody civil war.
But Shaikh of Brookings insisted Friday that without a clear international consensus to pressure the Assad regime little progress would be made.
“We will go into another round, but I would suspect that unless there is a dramatic shift in terms of the willingness of the international community to pressure, including the Russians, we’re not likely to see any great results, whether this session lasts on week or one year,” he said.
Syrian state daily Al-Baath meanwhile said Friday the Geneva talks had been fruitful, but only because “they revealed the fact that the Coalition is a pawn in the hands of plotters, and has no vision for Syria’s future.”
Little had been expected from the first round of talks, with movement toward a transitional government, called for in the never-implemented roadmap to peace adopted in 2012, viewed from the start as highly unlikely.
The opposition insists that the so-called Geneva I communique requires Assad to step down — something flatly rejected by the regime.
Brahimi admitted though that he was “very, very disappointed” that no progress had been made toward fulfilling the only tangible promise to emerge from the talks: the regime’s promise to allow women and children safe passage from rebel-held areas of Homs that have been besieged since June 2012.
The talks “are not affecting the trajectory of this conflict, it’s not affecting even the trajectory of the humanitarian situation in the country,” Shaikh lamented.

Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

Pro-government drive in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city Hodeidah. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2018

Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

  • Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday
  • UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week

SANAA: Iran-backed Houthi militias have said they are ready to mobilize more fighters to the frontline despite a lull in battleground Hodeidah, as the UN envoy prepares to visit the country to boost peace efforts.

Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday, apparently getting ready to head toward Hodeidah, a Red Sea city home to a vital port.

Men, some of whom looked very young, were lining up with bandoliers around their shoulders and rifles in their hands, chanting Houthi slogans.

Residents said on Sunday that relative calm had held in Hodeidah city since pro-government forces announced a pause in their offensive last week amid international calls for a cease-fire and UN-led peace efforts.  They added, however, that they remain on edge.

Meanwhile, coalition fighter jets on Sunday carried out a series of strikes targeting Houthi positions west of Marib. The strikes, which were accompanied by shelling, came after the Iranian-supported militia launched ballistic missiles toward the city of Marib. Coalition forces successfully intercepted the missiles, Yemeni army media said.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week to finalize arrangements for peace talks to take place in Sweden soon.

Hameed Assem, a member of the militia delegation expected to take part in the negotiations, said that Houthis will continue to mobilize if UN efforts for peace fail to materialize.

Pro-government forces on Wednesday suspended their 12-day offensive in Hodeidah.

Griffiths said on Friday that both the government and the Houthis have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution and have given “firm assurances” that they will attend the talks. No date has yet been set.