Assad says UN-backed Syria talks yielded ‘nothing’
Assad says UN-backed Syria talks yielded ‘nothing’
Assad spoke to reporters after the latest round of talks in Geneva ended last week without making any progress toward ending the nearly seven-year civil war. The UN envoy to Syria has criticized the regime, which refuses to discuss anything besides fighting terrorism.
The opposition has long called for a transitional period in which Assad would have no role, something the regime refuses to consider.
Assad praised an alternative track of negotiations expected to be hosted in Sochi by Russia, a close ally whose military intervention since 2015 has tipped the war in his favor.
“We certainly believe that anything is better than Geneva, because Geneva has achieved nothing after three years,” Assad said.
Assad said the talks at Sochi would examine whether Syria needs a new constitution or to amend its current one. He said legislative elections would also likely be discussed.
The main opposition group in Geneva has criticized the Sochi initiative, calling it an attempt to create an alternative track to the internationally supported peace talks.
Assad has portrayed the opposition delegation in Geneva as a proxy of hostile foreign powers.
Assad spoke after meeting a Russian government delegation. He said the visit was a chance to promote economic cooperation, “particularly now that we started the reconstruction phase.” He did not specify any particular projects.
Assad also called US-backed Kurdish fighters “traitors,” ramping up the rhetoric against the forces controlling more than a quarter of the country.
“When we talk about those referred to as ‘the Kurds’, they are in fact not just Kurds. All those who work for a foreign country, mainly those under American command... are traitors,” he said.
“This is how we see these groups working for the Americans,” he said.
Assad had criticized the semi-autonomous Kurds in the past, but his latest remarks, released by the presidency on social media, were more virulent than usual.
The Kurdish minority accounts for an estimated 15 percent of Syria’s population and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) control a large chunk of territory in the country.
Both Damascus, backed by Russia, and the Kurds, backed by a US-led coalition, have fought Daesh in recent months.
But their common enemy has been defeated across much of the country now, leaving the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces and regime forces in an uneasy face-off.
Some regime officials had in the past made overtures to the Kurds, suggesting some level of autonomy could be eventually be discussed, but Assad’s latest comments augur poorly for any future talks.
Meanwhile, reports said French President Emmanuel Macron said Daesh will be defeated in Syria by the middle or end of February and that Assad cannot be ignored in the aftermath of a military victory but must one day answer for his crimes, according to a TV interview.
Macron noted in a wide-ranging interview with TV station France 2 that Iraqi authorities declared Daesh defeated this month and said, “I think by mid-end February we will have won in Syria. Bashar Assad will be there.”
Under those circumstances, “We have to talk to everybody, we have to talk to Bashar Assad and his representatives,” the French leader said, adding: “Afterward, he must answer for his crimes before his people, before international justice.”
The France 2 interview was recorded five days ago, during a global climate summit Macron hosted two years after the signing of the landmark Paris climate agreement.
UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians, Israel says ‘no’
- Israel rejects report saying the protection should be against Palestinian leaders
- The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary
UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.But the report has been rejected by the Israelis. Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement late Friday that “the only protection the Palestinian people need is from their own leadership.”
“Instead of suggesting ways to protect the Palestinian people from Israel, the UN should instead hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for continually endangering its own people,” Danon said.
“The report’s suggestions will only enable the Palestinians’ continued rejectionism.”
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.