Assad negotiators arrive in Geneva for UN-backed Syria peace talks

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, center, speaks with delegation members Khaled Al-Mahamid, second left, and Jamal Suliman prior to the opening of a new round of Syria’s peace talk on November 28, 2017 at the UN offices in Geneva. (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2017
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Assad negotiators arrive in Geneva for UN-backed Syria peace talks

GENEVA: Syrian government negotiators arrived in Geneva on Wednesday to join United Nations-backed peace talks to end the civil war, adamant that they will not tolerate any discussion of President Bashar Assad’s ouster.
Damascus had initially refused to confirm it would attend the talks, which began on Tuesday, given the rebels were maintaining their hard-line stance on the president’s removal.
With the help of Russian military support, the Syrian regime has made major advances against its opponents in the past two years, seizing back large chunks of the country.
But a government delegation landed in the Swiss city on Wednesday, reportedly after securing key concessions from UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, including keeping the Assad issue off the table.
The talks have achieved little through seven previous rounds but there are hopes the latest may make some progress in ending what has been a devastating conflict.
Opposition representatives, united in one delegation for the first time, met de Mistura behind closed doors on Tuesday.
They told the envoy they remained ready for face-to-face talks with the government.
“We are one. We are ready to negotiate directly with the other side,” opposition spokesman Yahya Aridi said in a statement.
De Mistura has said that he would push for direct talks once the opposition unified, but a source close to the government has said that Damascus would not agree to sit around a table with rebel negotiators this round.
Rebel delegation chief Nasr Al-Hariri had said that his camp was still insisting on Assad’s removal as part of any peace deal, defying calls for moderation.
But sidelining the Assad issue may also suit de Mistura, who has said he wants this round to focus on a new constitution for Syria and UN-supervised elections.
De Mistura had voiced hope the coming round would mark the first “real negotiation” on a possible deal to end the six-year war which has claimed more than 340,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes and left Syria in ruin.
He has also warned the opposition that intransigence on the Assad issue might no longer be tenable.
In September, he said the opposition needed to be “realistic” and accept that “they didn’t win the war,” a statement supported by facts on the ground.
With the help of Moscow, Assad’s government has regained control of 55 percent of the country. The rest is carved up between rebel factions, jihadists and Kurdish forces.
The decision last week by Syrian opposition groups to send a single delegation to Geneva raised hopes of a possible breakthrough.
The new rebel negotiating team includes members of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which insists on Assad’s departure, as well as representatives of groups based in Moscow and Cairo that have a more moderate stance on the president.
Despite Hariri’s firm public position on the Assad stalemate, a European diplomat said the situation was fluid.
“We expect (the opposition) will be pragmatic and flexible,” the diplomat said, requesting anonymity.
A flexible opposition will likely help the UN’s peace push, which has been overshadowed by negotiations spearheaded by Moscow.
Russia and its fellow ally Iran, along with rebel-backer Turkey, have hosted negotiations in the Kazakh capital of Astana that led to the creation of four “de-escalation zones” which produced a drop in violence, though deadly air strikes and battles continue in some areas.
Western powers are concerned that Russia is seeking to take a leading role in the peace process and will carve out a settlement that will largely favor Assad.
But experts and officials have noted that Moscow cannot forge a solution alone and needs the UN to legitimize any peace deal.


Turkish court rejects Australia’s request to extradite Daesh recruiter

A Turkish soldier is seen in an armoured personnel carrier at a check point near the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis province, Turkey. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 July 2018
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Turkish court rejects Australia’s request to extradite Daesh recruiter

  • Ties between Turkey and its allies fighting Daesh, particularly the United States, have been frayed by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia
  • Australia had been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained

SYDNEY: A Turkish court rejected an Australian request to extradite a citizen it believes is a top recruiter for the Daesh group, Australia’s foreign minister said on Friday, in a setback for Canberra’s efforts to prosecute him at home.
Melbourne-born Neil Prakash has been linked to several Australia-based attack plans and has appeared in Daesh videos and magazines. Australia has alleged that he actively recruited Australian men, women and children and encouraged acts of militancy.
“We are disappointed that the Kilis Criminal Court in Turkey has rejected the request to extradite Neil Prakash to Australia,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement.
“We will continue to engage with Turkish authorities as they consider whether to appeal the extradition decision,” she said.
Australia had been pressing Turkey to extradite Prakash since he was first detained there nearly two years ago.
Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported from Kilis that Prakash was initially ordered to be freed but was later charged under Turkish law with being a Daesh member.
A spokesman at Turkey’s foreign ministry in Istanbul had no immediate comment and the Turkish embassy in Australia did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Ties between Turkey and its allies fighting Daesh, particularly the United States, have been frayed by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara regards as a militant group.
Canberra announced financial sanctions against Prakash in 2015, including anyone giving him financial assistance, with punishment of up to 10 years in jail.
The Australian government wrongly reported in 2016, based on US intelligence, that Prakash had been killed in an air strike in Mosul, Iraq. It later confirmed that Prakash was detained in Turkey.
Australia raised its national terror threat level to “high” for the first time in 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq or Syria.
A staunch ally of the United States and its actions against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Australia believes more than 100 of its citizens were fighting in the region.