Four-nation Syria summit calls for lasting Idlib cease-fire

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron take part in a conference as part of a summit called to attempt to find a lasting political solution to the civil war in Syria. (AFP)
Updated 28 October 2018
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Four-nation Syria summit calls for lasting Idlib cease-fire

  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke for several hours with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the Syrian conflict
  • The talks came after a week of escalating violence in Idlib culminated in Syrian regime artillery fire killing seven civilians

ISTANBUL: The leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany on Saturday called for a political solution to Syria’s devastating seven-year civil war and a lasting cease-fire in the last major rebel-held bastion of Idlib.
A joint statement adopted at the end of a major summit in Istanbul said the countries were committed to working “together in order to create conditions for peace and stability in Syria.”
It also “stressed the importance of a lasting cease-fire” in Idlib, while hailing “progress” following a deal last month between Syrian-regime supporter Russia and rebel-backer Turkey to create a buffer zone around the northwestern province.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke for several hours with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the Syrian conflict, in which more than 360,000 people have been killed since 2011.
Their statement, read by Erdogan, called for a committee to be established to draft Syria’s post-war constitution before the end of the year, “paving the way for free and fair elections” in the war-torn country.
It also said there was “the need to ensure humanitarian organizations’ rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria and immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need.”
The talks came after a week of escalating violence in Idlib culminated in Syrian regime artillery fire killing seven civilians on Friday, the highest death toll there since the fragile cease-fire began last month.
Following the joint news conference in Istanbul, the leaders spoke separately, with Macron urging Russia to pressure the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to bring about a “stable and lasting cease-fire in Idlib.”
“We rely on Russia to exercise very clear pressure on the regime which depends on it for survival,” he said.
However Putin warned that if “radicals” were to “launch armed provocations from the Idlib zone, Russia reserves the right to give active assistance to the Syrian government in liquidating this source of terrorist threat.”
Merkel, meanwhile, said the leaders “have the duty to prevent another humanitarian disaster.”
“The challenge is to end two wars: The war against terror and the war of the regime against large parts of its own population,” she said.
“A solution cannot happen through military means but only through political negotiations under the leadership of the United Nations.”
A rival United Nations plan for a committee to write the constitution ran aground this week, with UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who attended the summit, saying Damascus rejected the UN having a role in the selection process.
The summit also addressed the plight of the millions displaced by the grinding conflict, saying that conditions needed to be created “throughout the country for the safe and voluntary return of refugees.”
However whether or not those forced to flee the country would be allowed to vote in a future election was left for the separate press conferences.
“We must advance with the political process at the end of which there must be free elections open to all Syrians -– including those in the diaspora,” Merkel said.
Erdogan, a vocal opponent of Assad, agreed, saying that Syrians “inside and outside” the country must decide the president’s fate.
Aid groups have warned that a Syrian government military offensive in Idlib, home to three million people, could spark one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the seven-year war.
With an assault by government troops seeming imminent, Moscow and Ankara agreed on September 17 to create a 15-20 kilometer-wide demilitarised zone ringing Idlib as Turkey sought to avoid an attack leading to a further influx of people across its border.
On Friday, Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jaafari maintained that the buffer zone is temporary and that Idlib would eventually revert to government control.
Turkey and Russia have held several talks with Iran on the Syrian conflict in efforts that have often been greeted with suspicion in the West, but Saturday’s summit was the first to include the EU’s two most significant national leaders.
Syria’s opposition, which has previously described Russia’s military intervention in 2015 as an occupation, on Friday said it welcomed dialogue with Moscow.
However US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a security conference in Bahrain that Russia was no replacement for the United States.
“Russia’s presence in the region cannot replace the longstanding, enduring, and transparent US commitment to the Middle East,” Mattis said.


Latest Gaza flare-up: What does it mean for the blockaded strip?

This cease-fire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Latest Gaza flare-up: What does it mean for the blockaded strip?

  • “Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue.”
  • Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008

AFP JERUSALEM: A truce in Gaza has left Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battling to keep his government afloat after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman walked out in protest.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, welcomed Lieberman’s resignation on Wednesday as a “victory” — but what will it mean for Gaza?

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008, interspersed with simmering hostilities and periodic spikes in violence.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. The Jewish state, like the US and the EU, defines Hamas as a “terrorist” organization. For over a decade Israel has maintained a crippling blockade on the coastal strip.

An apparently botched Israeli army raid into the Gaza Strip triggered the worst escalation in violence since 2014 and brought the two sides to the brink of war.

On Tuesday, Hamas and Israel accepted an Egyptian-mediated cease-fire. Denouncing it as “capitulation,” Lieberman resigned from his post the next day, leaving the government with a majority of just one seat in Parliament.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared the cease-fire with military powerhouse Israel “a political victory.”

It came after Israel in October allowed Qatar to provide Gaza with fuel to help ease its chronic electricity crisis, under a UN-brokered deal.

In parallel, Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker a long-term Gaza-Israel truce in exchange for Israel easing its embargo.

The events of the past week gave a boost to Hamas and its allies, said Gaza political analyst Mukhaimer Abu Saada. “But if there is a war that could change,” he said.

After the pounding Gaza took in 2014, most residents want above all to avoid a rerun. Indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas have eroded the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

A peace initiative by US President Donald Trump is expected to emerge in the next few months. The PA fears that it will drive the wedge even deeper between Gaza the West Bank, two territories long envisaged as part of a unified Palestinian state.

Jamal Al-Fadi, a professor of political science in Gaza, says such a divide suits Israel. “We can not have results against Israel except by unity,” he said.

This cease-fire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed.

With the Israeli political tensions unleashed by Lieberman’s departure, there will be fresh domestic pressure on Netanyahu to hit Hamas harder.

“The coming days will be difficult” for Gaza, Al-Fadi said.

“It was a right-wing government and the (next) elections will bring another right-wing government,” he said.

“Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue.”