Syria opposition to visit regime ally Moscow

Turkish armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) are seen driving near the village of Yazi Bagh, about six kilometres from the Bab Al-Salamah border crossing between Syria and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Syria opposition to visit regime ally Moscow

BEIRUT: Syria’s main opposition group said it will send a delegation Monday to regime ally Russia to discuss with officials Moscow’s “real stance” on the Syrian political process.
The visit by the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC) comes as Moscow gets set to host peace talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 30 along with Syrian regime backer Iran and rebel supporter Turkey.
The SNC has said it will attend fresh UN-hosted negotiations before then but has not yet announced if it will also go to the Sochi talks, which dozens of rebel factions have already rejected.
A statement by the SNC said Monday’s visit was “in response to an invitation by the Russian foreign ministry” and that its delegation will hold talks with the foreign and defense ministers as well as members of parliament.
The visit aims at “understanding Russia’s real stance toward the political process, since it is a partner in the conflict, a godfather of talks with Syria and a guarantor of de-escalation zones,” it said.
SNC spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told AFP the opposition wanted “simply to make sure that Russia is serious about the entire peace process,” particularly UN-led talks.
Numerous rounds of UN-brokered peace talks have been held in Geneva, and the last one concluded in mid-December with no notable progress toward ending the country’s war.
They are to resume January 25-26, this time in Vienna, ahead of the Sochi talks.
Key players Russia, Iran and Turkey have been sponsoring parallel peace talks since the start of last year that have looked to still the fighting.
The Sochi meeting is now part of a broader push by Moscow to start hammering out a path to a political solution to end the war and has sparked concerns that the Kremlin is looking to sideline the UN.
The Damascus government has said it would attend the Sochi talks, which are aimed at setting up a new constitution for post-war Syria.
Syria’s nearly seven-year war, which began as the regime brutally crushed anti-government protests, has claimed more than 340,000 lives, forced millions to flee their homes and left the country in ruins.


Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

Updated 19 February 2019
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Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

  • The UN statement said both sides ‘made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hodeidah agreement.’
  • Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil.

NEW YORK: Yemen’s government and the Houthi militias have agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from the port city of Hodeidah, a key entry point for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by Jan. 7 from Hodeidah under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.

“The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN spokesman’s office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed.

Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah, where battles raged before a cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 18.

The Houthis occupy Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, while Yemeni government forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are massed on the outskirts.

The UN statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties’ forces in Hodeidah province.

Two sources involved in the negotiations said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.

“The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city,” one source told Reuters.

The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would reposition forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km from the port.

Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors in Yemen.

Under the first phase, the two sides agreed to reopen main roads linking Hodeidah to the Houthi-occupied capital Sanaa and in Yemen’s third city of Taiz, said a UN source.

They also agreed to enable access to Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Program grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the source said. Access to the site has been cut off since September due to fighting.

The Hodeidah truce has largely been respected but there have been intermittent skirmishes in flashpoints on the city’s edges.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice launched an offensive to seize the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting of their main supply line.