UN envoy moves to revive Yemen talks

Griffiths said on September 11, 2018, he will seek to revive talks between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi militias after a first bid for negotiations on ending the war failed to get off the ground. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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UN envoy moves to revive Yemen talks

  • Meetings aimed at preparing formal peace talks were to begin last week in Geneva but the Houthis refused to leave Sanaa until a series of demands were met
  • It was the first UN bid to convene talks between the warring sides since 2016

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The UN envoy for Yemen said Tuesday he will seek to revive talks between the Saudi-backed government and Houthi militias after a first bid for negotiations on ending the war failed to get off the ground.
Meetings aimed at preparing formal peace talks were to begin last week in Geneva but the Houthis refused to leave Sanaa to attend the consultations until a series of demands were met.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council he will be traveling to Muscat on Wednesday and later Sanaa and Riyadh to secure “a firm commitment from the parties to convene for continued consultations.”
The Houthis failed to turn up at the talks in Geneva over demands linked to the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman and safe passage for the return of the rebel delegation to Sanaa.
The Yemen peace process will have “ups and downs,” Griffiths told a council meeting, downplaying the setback as “temporary obstacles.”
He asked the council to support his new shuttle diplomacy to “move back to the table with all speed.”
It was the first UN bid to convene talks between the warring sides since 2016.
The war in impoverished Yemen has killed 10,000 people and unleashed what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting Houthi militias in Yemen since 2015 to drive them out of the capital Sanaa and return President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi to power.


Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Updated 1 min 29 sec ago
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Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.