Truce under strain; Assad ready to discuss ‘everything’ at talks
Truce under strain; Assad ready to discuss ‘everything’ at talks
Assad, in comments to French media, also said his regime was ready to negotiate on “everything” at peace talks his Russian allies hope to convene in Kazakhstan, including his own position within the framework of the Syrian constitution.
But he indicated any new constitution must be put to a referendum and it was up to Syrians to elect their president.
His opponents have insisted throughout nearly six years of war that he must leave power under any future peace deal. But since Russia joined the war on his side in late 2015, his regime’s position on the battlefield has strengthened dramatically, giving him greater leverage now than at any time since the war’s earliest days.
The cease-fire which came into effect on Dec. 30 aims to pave the way for the new peace talks which Russia hopes to convene with Turkish and Iranian support. But no date has been set for the talks and the warring sides have accused each other of truce violations.
The Moscow-led effort to revive diplomacy, without the participation of the United States, has emerged with Assad buoyed by the defeat of opposition fighters in Aleppo, and as ties thaw between Russia and Turkey, long one of the fighters’ main backers.
Ankara, now seemingly more worried by growing Kurdish sway in Syria than toppling Assad, supports the diplomatic push.
The latest fighting has been especially intense near Damascus where the army and allied militia are trying to capture an opposition-held area that includes the main water source supplying Damascus. It was bombed out of service more than two weeks ago.
Assad blamed truce violations on the insurgents, and said the army must “prevent terrorists from using the water to throttle the capital.” He said it was the army’s job to recapture the Wadi Barada area, which he said had been occupied by a radical group not covered by the cease-fire.
The opposition denies the area is in radicals’ hands.
The United Nations has said 5.5 million people have had little or no running water for more than two weeks in Damascus. It blamed “deliberate targeting” for destroying the pumping station, without saying by whom. The opposition accuses the regime.
Talks between the regime and the opposition aimed at allowing repairs to the pumping station failed at the weekend, and heavy airstrikes were reported in the area on Sunday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, reported clashes in Wadi Barada on Monday and said regime forces shelled several towns there.
In Idlib province in the north, a military media unit run by Damascus’s ally Hezbollah said rebel shelling killed two people in the pro-regime villages of Al-Foua and Kefraya.
‘We will not remain silent’
The spokesman for one of the opposition groups that signed the cease-fire said opposition leaders had concluded they could not continue abiding the truce in what he described as a “unilateral way,” and they would respond to attacks by the other side.
“Even if the agreement continues within what has been agreed on, they have the full right to respond to breaches wherever they are,” Mamoun Haj Musa, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army-affiliated Suqur Al-Sham group, told Reuters.
Writing on Twitter, the head of another rebel group said the opposition had agreed to the truce to spare Syrian blood. But with violence continuing, “we will not remain silent” wrote Mohamad Al-Mansour, head of Jaish Al-Nasr.
Asked if the regime planned to recapture Daesh-held city of Raqqa, Assad said it was the regime’s army’s role to liberate “every inch” of Syrian land. “But the question is related to when, and our priorities. This is a military matter linked to military planning and priorities,” he added.
Riad Nassan Agha, a member of the main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the Riyadh-backed High Negotiations Committee, said he had not heard of anyone being invited to the Astana talks yet.
“Syrians do not yet feel that there is a cease-fire. The battles are continuing: the attack on Wadi Barada, on (rural) western Aleppo, on Idlib, on the Ghouta (suburban area near) Damascus, Daraa,” he said. The Astana talks “cannot succeed unless the cease-fire is implemented,” he added.
Arab Israeli poet jailed for online incitement freed from prison
- Tatour posted a video of herself reading her poem “Resist, my people, resist them,” in 2015, accompanied by pictures of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces, according to authorities.
- The 36-year-old Israeli citizen was sentenced in July
An Arab Israeli woman jailed for five months for incitement to violence and support for a terrorist organization in online poems and other social media posts was released from prison on Thursday.
Dareen Tatour posted a video clip of herself reading her poem “Resist, my people, resist them,” in October 2015, accompanied by pictures of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces, according to authorities.
The posts on YouTube and Facebook came as a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence was erupting, including Palestinian knife attacks.
The 36-year-old Israeli citizen was sentenced in July.
She was released on Thursday due to time served before her conviction, she and a prison spokesman said.
“Freedom is something so sweet that I can’t even describe it,” Tatour said after her release.
She added that she planned to publish a collection of poems and a novel on her experience in prison.
International writers’ group PEN defended Tatour’s actions.
She was “convicted for doing what writers do every day — we use our words to peacefully challenge injustice,” the group said.
The offending verses were quoted in Hebrew in the charge sheet, but according to an English translation on the Arabic literature site ArabLit, they contained the following:
“For an Arab Palestine, I will not succumb to the ‘peaceful solution,’ Never lower my flags, Until I evict them from my land, Resist the settler’s robbery, And follow the caravan of martyrs.”
Prosecutors said that on Oct. 4, 2015 she also quoted a statement by Islamic Jihad calling for “continuation of the intifada in every part of the West Bank,” alleging it showed her support for the outlawed militant group.
Tatour, from the Arab village of Reineh near Nazareth, was arrested a week later.
Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948.
They account for some 17.5 percent of Israel’s population and largely support the Palestinian cause.