New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011. (Screengrab)
Updated 15 January 2019

New envoy in Syria to revive UN mediation efforts

  • Pedersen is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011
  • The seasoned Norwegian diplomat replaces previous UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura

DAMASCUS: The new special UN envoy to Syria began his first trip to Damascus on Tuesday, facing the daunting task of rekindling moribund peace talks and succeeding where his three predecessors failed.

Norway’s Geir Pedersen, who replaces Staffan de Mistura, is the fourth negotiator to have been appointed UN special envoy to Syria since the civil war broke out in 2011.

The seasoned diplomat, 63, was seen entering a Damascus hotel and is expected to hold talks with senior officials, although no official program for his visit was published.

Pedersen simply said on social media that he was “looking forward to productive meetings here.”

Officials in the government of Bashar Assad set the tone for the new envoy’s tenure shortly after news of his appointment in October last year.

“Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Meqdad said, quoted by Al-Watan newspaper.

Assad opponents have said the change in UN envoy would have little impact on the fate of the country as international will and consensus were lacking.

Pedersen has not yet spoken publicly about his mission and it remains unclear what his approach will be.

De Mistura, who announced in October he was resigning for “purely personal reasons,” ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push for the formation of a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution for Syria.

In December, he acknowledged that the committee would not be formed by year’s end as was hoped.

“I deeply regret what has not been achieved, and I am sorry more was not possible,” said the Swedish-Italian diplomat.

A track of peace talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition delegations is clinically dead and observers argue Assad will see little need to revive it.

Three years into the conflict that erupted when the government repressed anti-regime demonstrations, Assad was clinging to barely a third of Syrian territory and his days at the helm looked numbered.

Assad, who has been in power for more than 18 years, has now reclaimed much of the territory he lost at the beginning of the war, largely thanks to the military backing of veto-wielding UN Security Council permanent member Russia.

Non-jihadist opposition groups across Syria have little or no clout on the ground and negligible bargaining power in negotiations with Damascus.

De Mistura had been appointed in July 2014 after veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi resigned following two years in the position.

Brahimi stepped in after late UN chief Kofi Annan quit just six months into the role, which he described as “mission impossible.”

Pedersen was a member of the Norwegian team to the secret negotiations that led to the signing of the 1993 Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians.


Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

Updated 35 sec ago

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

  • Reports are credible, expert tells Arab News
  • Hospitals report spike in burns victims

ANKARA: Accusations that Turkey has used banned incendiary weapons against civilians in its invasion of northern Syria are credible, a leading security analyst told Arab News on Saturday.

Kurdish leaders said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fighter jets had dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus on civilian targets in the border town of Ras Al-Ain, a key objective for Turkish troops.

“The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras Al-Ain,” the Kurdish administration said. “Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned, such as phosphorus and napalm.”

Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for New American Security, told Arab News: “There are now multiple credible reports that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its campaign in northeast Syria, and especially against the stubborn defenders of the city of Ras Al-Ain.”

The attacks on Ras Al-Ain are being investigated by UN chemical weapons inspectors, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Human Rights Watch. 

OPCW said it had “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” and its inspectors were monitoring the situation.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Erdogan’s jets ‘dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus in Ras Al-Ain.’
  • The attacks are being probed by UN chemical weapons inspectors and Human Rights Watch.
  • A video posted on social media shows children with burns that a doctor says were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

If the use of banned incendiary weapons were proved, it would be a grave violation of Turkey’s pledge to wage war with concern for civilian lives, Heras said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a spike in burn wounds treated at the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras Al-Ain area. 

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six people were being treated in hospital for burns. 

Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns that one doctor in Hasakeh province said were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the UK newspaper The Times that the burns appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus.

The substance may be used to create a smoke screen, or as a battlefield marker, especially at night, but its use as an incendiary weapon is prohibited under international law.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Dr. Willem Theo Oosterveld, a senior fellow at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said the deployment of white phosphorus was not explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, he said, under humanitarian law “the use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited.”