Syrian opposition seeks unified front in Riyadh talks

Members of the Syrian high negotiations committee and the Cairo and Moscow groups are seen during a meeting in Riyadh, on August 21, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2017
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Syrian opposition seeks unified front in Riyadh talks

RIYADH: Three Syrian opposition camps met in Riyadh Monday to try to forge a unified front for what the UN hopes will be a substantive round of peace negotiations in October.
The Saudi-backed opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) held an hours-long meeting in a Riyadh compound with delegations from two other moderate camps, the so-called Cairo and Moscow groupings.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has sought to unify the opposition to develop a more pragmatic negotiating strategy after hosting seven rounds of largely unsuccessful talks.
The main obstacle has been the fate of President Bashar Assad, with the HNC insisting on his ouster but the other two camps adopting a softer stance on the issue.
“The goal of the meeting is to arrive at an agreement on the political program that forms the basis of the negotiations. At the forefront is the position on Bashar Assad,” Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Ramadan told AFP this week.
There was no immediate comment on the conclusion of Monday’s meeting.
De Mistura said last week that he hopes for “real, substantive” peace talks between the government and a still-to-be-formed unified Syrian opposition in October.
Rebels have suffered heavy territorial losses since peace talks to end the war began, including the regime’s recapture of Aleppo, a former opposition stronghold.
With the rebel fighting position weakened, experts say the regime faces no pressure to make concessions at the negotiating table, and especially not over the question of Assad’s future.
De Mistura has said he may still try to organize another “preparatory” round of talks in Geneva next month, but stressed that his office will be focusing on the agenda for “substantive talks” aimed for October.


Libyan coast guard picks up almost 1,000 migrants in one day

Updated 39 min 8 sec ago
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Libyan coast guard picks up almost 1,000 migrants in one day

  • The western coast of Libya is the main departure point for thousands of migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe
  • A witness watching the arrival of another coast guard ship at Tripoli’s Abu Sittah naval base said a third group included 490 migrants picked up off Qarabulli town

TRIPOLI: Libyan coast guards picked up 948 African migrants on inflatable boats in several operations and also recovered 10 bodies on Sunday, officials and a witness at a naval base said.
The operations brings the number, since last week, of mainly African migrants trying to head to Italy but brought back to Libya to almost 2,000.
The western coast of Libya is the main departure point for thousands of migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe.
The number of crossings has dropped sharply since July 2017 when an armed group expelled human traffickers from a smuggling hub after an Italy-backed deal.
“The coast guards picked up illegal migrants in different groups. The first group is 97 on one inflatable boat and the second group is 361 migrants on two inflatable boats,” Naval forces spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.
“The second group was taken to Khums town,” Qassem said, adding that the two groups included 110 women and 70 children.
A witness watching the arrival of another coast guard ship at Tripoli’s Abu Sittah naval base said a third group included 490 migrants picked up off Qarabulli town. Among them were 75 women and 20 children.
Libya plunged into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with many armed groups and two administrations vying for power.
Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean toward Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.
Earlier this month, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving one ship stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe harbor.
Italy criticized Malta on Sunday over its refusal to take in a Dutch-flagged aid vessel with more than 230 migrants on board.