Syrian government rejects UN-led committee to alter constitution

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to attendees after a session of the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia Jan 30, 2018.(Reuters)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Syrian government rejects UN-led committee to alter constitution

DAMASCUS: Syria’s government on Tuesday rejected efforts led by the United Nations to form a committee to rewrite Syria’s constitution, the main result of a peace congress among Syrian groups in Russia last month.
“As a state, we are not bound by, nor have any relation with, any committee that is not Syrian formed, led and constituted,” said Ayman Soussan, an assistant to the Syrian Foreign Minister, at a press conference in Damascus.
“We are not bound by anything that is formed by foreign sides, whatever their name or state, we are not bound by it and it is of no concern to us,” he added.
Participants at the Sochi congress, a centerpiece of diplomatic efforts by Damascus’ ally Russia to end the war, agreed on Jan. 30 to set up the constitutional committee in Geneva, and to hold democratic elections in Syria.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said at Sochi that he would decide the criteria for committee members and select about 50 people from government, opposition and independent groups.
The main opposition negotiating group, which boycotted the Sochi meeting, said afterwards that it would cooperate with the formation of a constitutional committee so long as it would be under UN auspices.
Syria’s government said at the time that it welcomed the results of the Sochi meeting, but it made no mention then of the constitutional committee or call for democratic elections.
“De Mistura is a facilitator and not a mediator or a stand-in for other parties,” Soussan said on Tuesday.
Nine rounds of UN-sponsored peace talks, most of them in Geneva, have failed to bring Syria’s warring sides together after seven years of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.
Russia has pushed a parallel diplomatic process that is regarded with suspicion by much of the Syrian opposition.
President Bashar Assad’s government in 2012 announced voters had overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in a referendum, conducted amid civil war bloodshed, that was derided as a sham by Assad’s critics at home and abroad.
The new basic law maintained real power in the presidency but dropped a clause that in effect granted Assad’s Baath Party a monopoly on power.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

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.
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.