UN warns Idlib assault by Syrian regime could be “six times worse” than Ghouta

Cars use the highway extending from Harasta in Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2018

UN warns Idlib assault by Syrian regime could be “six times worse” than Ghouta

UNITED NATIONS, New York: The UN special envoy to Syria warned Wednesday that a regime assault on the northern rebel-held area of Idlib would be “six times” more destructive than the battle to recapture Ghouta, which fell last month after years of siege.
“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Staffan de Mistura told the UN Security Council’s monthly meeting on the Syria conflict.
De Mistura described what he called the classic Syrian regime tactic of a bombardment of a rebel territory followed by negotiations and then mass evacuations from the defeated area.
But the special envoy noted that half of the people in the northern rebel province of Idlib had already fled from other parts of Syria, “and will have nowhere else to go because there is no other place to go.”
Regime forces recaptured Ghouta from rebels last month after a ferocious offensive that displaced tens of thousands, both to government-controlled zones around Damascus and to opposition-held parts of northern Syria.
Nevertheless de Mistura said he was “encouraged” by talks earlier this week in the Kazakh capital Astana on “how to avoid worst-case scenario in Idlib.”
The latest round of peace talks, which wrapped up on Tuesday, did not however make any concrete progress toward ending the seven-year conflict that has cost 350,000 lives.
The high-level talks ended merely with a declaration by the three main guarantor nations of Russia and Iran — both of which are allies of the Damascus regime — and Turkey, which backs rebel groups, that negotiations would resume in July in the Russian city of Sochi, but rebel groups said they would not attend.
Since the Astana negotiations began at the beginning of last year, they have mostly focused on attempts to keep Syrian regime forces and their rebel opponents at arm’s length.
Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanski, said that the solution to the Syria conflict was “simple: restore the sovereignty of Damascus over its territories.”
“If you cannot or will not help solve the problem, at least do not stand in our way!” he said in a statement directed at the United States, which did not send a delegation to the latest Astana talks.
Shortly before the UN meeting, the Dutch ambassador Karel Van Oosterom told reporters that the main obstacle to resolving the conflict was that “the Syrian government is not engaging.”
He said that was the message that De Mistura himself had made during a recent meeting of the council.


Egypt to press for outside mediator in Ethiopia dam dispute

Updated 33 min 15 sec ago

Egypt to press for outside mediator in Ethiopia dam dispute

  • Egyptian officials said they had suggested the World Bank as a fourth party mediator
  • Ethiopia has denied that three-way talks are stalled, accusing Egypt of trying to sidestep the process

CAIRO: Egypt will push Ethiopia this week to agree to an external mediator to help resolve a deepening dispute over a giant hydropower dam being built on Ethiopia's Blue Nile, officials said on Sunday.
Egypt sees the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) as an existential risk, fearing it will threaten scarce water supplies in Egypt and power generation at its own dam in Aswan.
Cairo says it has exhausted efforts to reach an agreement on the conditions for operating GERD and filling the reservoir behind it, after years of three-party talks with Ethiopia and Sudan.
Ethiopia has denied that three-way talks are stalled, accusing Egypt of trying to sidestep the process.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is expected to raise the demand for a mediator when he meets Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a Russian-African summit in Russia this week.
"We're hoping this meeting might produce an agreement on the participation of a fourth party," an Egyptian foreign ministry official told journalists at a briefing. "We're hopeful to reach a formula in the next few weeks."
Egyptian officials said they had suggested the World Bank as a fourth party mediator, but were also open to the role being filled by a country with technical experience on water sharing issues such as the United States, or the European Union.
Recent proposals put forward by Egypt for a flexible reservoir-filling process and a guaranteed annual flow of 40 billion cubic metres were rejected by Ethiopia.
The latest rounds of talks in Cairo and Khartoum over the past two months ended in acrimony. "The gap is getting wider," the Egyptian foreign ministry official said.
Egypt draws almost all of its fresh water supplies from the Nile, and is faced with worsening water scarcity for its population of nearly 100 million. It says it is working to reduce the amount of water used in agriculture.
Hydrologists consider a country to be facing water scarcity if supplies drop below 1,000 cubic metres per person per year.
Egypt currently has around 570 cubic metres per person per year, a figure that is expected to drop to 500 cubic metres by 2025, without taking into account any reduction in supply caused by GERD, Egyptian officials said.
Ethiopia is expected to start filling the GERD reservoir next year.