Kurds ‘will not join Sochi peace talks’

Lebanese Kurds take part in a protest near the European Commission offices in Beirut on Sunday against the ongoing Turkish military campaign in Afrin. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2018

Kurds ‘will not join Sochi peace talks’

BEIRUT: Authorities in Syria’s Kurdish autonomous region said on Sunday they would not attend peace talks in Russia’s Sochi next week because of Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
“We said before that if the situation remained the same in Afrin we could not attend Sochi,” regional official Fawza Al-Yussef said.
Turkey is one of the sponsors of the talks in the Black Sea resort on Monday and Tuesday, along with Russia and Iran.
Turkey’s military offensive in Afrin “contradicts the principle of political dialogue,” Yussef said.
Turkey launched operation “Olive Branch” on Jan. 20 against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia in Afrin, supporting Syrian opposition fighters with ground troops and air strikes.
Ankara says the YPG is a “terrorist” offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is proscribed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
The Sochi talks come after multiple failed rounds of UN-brokered talks to end Syria’s seven-year war.
On Saturday, Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), also said it would not attend the negotiations.
The commission accused President Bashar Assad’s regime and its Russian backers of continuing to rely on military might — and showing no willingness to enter into honest negotiations.
The opposition announcement came after two days of separate UN-backed peace talks came to a close in Vienna.
“This round of negotiations was an international test for the regime, and the test ended yesterday (Friday),” the opposition Syrian Negotiation Commission’s Nasr Al-Hariri told reporters in Vienna.
In the SNC’s initial announcement of a boycott, the group said on its Twitter account Friday night that “Russia has not succeeded in promoting its conference.”
“The SNC has decided not to participate at Sochi after marathon negotiations with the UN and representatives of countries involved in Syria,” it added.
Dozens of rebel groups had already refused to join the talks in the Black Sea resort next Monday and Tuesday organized by Moscow, and the question of whether the main opposition would attend overshadowed the Vienna talks.
Those talks stretched late into Friday night, with both regime officials and the SNC meeting separately with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura — who did not strike an especially optimistic tone after the gruelling negotiations.
As with eight previous rounds of failed UN-backed talks in Geneva, there was no sign that the warring sides had met face to face at discussions intended to lay the groundwork for a new post-war constitution.
De Mistura, speaking to reporters, admitted there had been a disheartening lack of progress up until now.
“I share the immense frustration of millions of Syrians inside and outside the country at the lack of a political settlement to date,” he said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will send his Syria peace negotiator to the conference in Russia, a spokesman said in New York.
De Mistura stressed the legitimacy of the UN-led talks over Russia’s parallel peace push, however, saying firmly that a political transition for Syria “is to be reached in the UN-led Geneva process.”
“I hope that the forthcoming Syrian national dialogue congress in Sochi will contribute to a revived and credible intra-Syrian process under the UN in Geneva,” he added.
Haid Haid, a consulting research fellow at Chatham House think-tank, said Russia’s long-term strategic interests were at play in Sochi.
“They want to present themselves as peace brokers, not only in Syria but in the Middle East in general, a role traditionally carried out by the Americans,” Haid said.
“For the Russians to take this role, they have to do what the Americans were not able to do” — find a solution in Syria, he said.

Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

Updated 4 min 7 sec ago

Two police officers killed after terror suspect blows himself up near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo

  • The blast also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen
  • Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability

CAIRO: Two police officers were killed when a terror suspect blew himself up after he was surrounded by police near Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo on Monday.

The blast in the crowded Darb Al-Ahmar district also killed the bomber and injured three other policemen, the interior ministry said.

“As security surrounded the man and was set to arrest and control him, an explosive device in his possession went off,” the ministry said in a press statement.

The explosion took place after police chased the suspect who they believe had planted a bomb near a security staff close to a mosque in Giza on Friday, the statement said. Security officers had been able to defuse that device.

Monday’s explosion that took place near Al Azhar mosque at the heart of ancient Islamic Cairo damaged several shops.

“My shop’s front and windows were destroyed,” said Kareem Sayed Awad, a barbershop owner. “Not only that, but people have died. This is a tourist area and such incidents affect it.”

Egypt’s tourism industry has been struggling to recover from attacks and domestic instability that has hit the country in the years following a 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

In December three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide died when a homemade bomb exploded on their bus on the outskirts of Cairo, near the famed pyramids in Giza.

Authorities have been seeking to lure tourists back by touting new archaeological discoveries and bolstering security around archaeological sites and in airports.

Tourism has slowly started picking up. The official statistics agency says tourist arrivals in Egypt in 2017 reached 8.3 million, up from 5.3 million the year before.

But that figure was still far short of the record influx in 2010 when over 14 million visitors flocked to the country.

Egypt has also for years been battling an Islamist insurgency, which deepened following military’s ousting of Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.

The attacks have been mainly concentrated in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula but have also spread to the mainland.

In February 2018, security forces launched a major anti-militant operation focused on the Sinai Peninsula, aimed at wiping out a local affiliate of the Daesh group.

On Saturday, an attack on an Egyptian army checkpoint in north Sinai left 15 soldiers dead or wounded and seven of the suspected jihadist assailants killed, according to the military.

(With AFP)