UN special envoy meets Arab League chief for talks over Syria’s readmission

Geir Pedersen, the United Nations' new special envoy for Syria, gestures while speaking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, back to a camera, during their talks in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (AP)
Updated 28 January 2019

UN special envoy meets Arab League chief for talks over Syria’s readmission

  • Several Arab states including Lebanon and Tunisia have recently called for Syria’s return to the Arab League

CAIRO: The new UN special envoy for Syria held talks on Sunday with the head of the Arab League, whose members appear divided about whether to readmit the war-torn country.
The League, which will hold its annual summit in Tunisia in March, suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 as the death toll in the country’s civil war mounted.
Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen, who this month become the fourth UN negotiator aiming to resolve the nearly eight-year conflict, met with Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo on Sunday, the organization said.
They discussed the latest talks among Arab states about the organization’s decisions on Syria since 2011, the League said in a statement.
Aboul Gheit also pointed to the importance of “reaching a peaceful solution” to the Syrian crisis, it said. Pedersen was also scheduled to meet with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
Several Arab states including Lebanon and Tunisia have recently called for Syria’s return to the Arab League.
In December, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir made the first visit by any Arab leader to the Syrian capital since 2011, and the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus.
In another sign of a diplomatic thaw, the speaker of Jordan’s Parliament invited his Syrian counterpart to meetings of the Arab Parliamentary Union in Amman in March, Jordanian state news agency Petra reported Sunday. But not all of the League’s members support closer ties with Damascus.
Qatar, which has backed opposition in Syria’s civil war, said this month that Damascus under President Bashar Assad should not be allowed back into the Arab League.
Pedersen stressed the need for a UN-brokered political solution to the war when he visited Damascus after assuming his duties this month following the resignation of his predecessor Staffan de Mistura.


At least 13 people drown in migrant shipwreck off Libya

Updated 26 min 57 sec ago

At least 13 people drown in migrant shipwreck off Libya

  • The boat had set off from the town of Zliten, east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli
  • The Libyan Coast Guard said that it had ordered the rescue, and that search teams were scouring the area

CAIRO: Over a dozen migrants trying to reach Europe drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when their small dinghy capsized off the coast of Libya, the United Nations reported Friday, the latest shipwreck to underscore the deadly risks facing those who flee the war-afflicted North African country.
Libyan fishermen spotted the sinking boat late Thursday, said the International Organization for Migration, and managed to pull 22 people from the water, including those from Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Somalia and Ghana.
But at least 13 of the other passengers were missing and presumed drowned. Three dead bodies were found floating in the water, including one Syrian man and woman. The boat had set off from the town of Zliten, east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli, late on Wednesday.
The Libyan Coast Guard said that it had ordered the rescue, and that search teams were scouring the area for more victims.
“So many boats are leaving these days, but autumn is a very difficult season,” said Commodore Masoud Abdal Samad. “When it gets windy, it’s deadly. It changes in an instant.”
Following the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants hoping to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. At least 20,000 people have died in those waters since 2014, according to the UN
Those who survived Friday’s disaster were taken to the Tripoli port, where they received medical care for their burns, a common consequence of leaked engine fuel mixing with saltwater, said Safa Msehli, an IOM spokeswoman.
Libyan authorities shepherded the survivors to the Zliten detention center, run by the Tripoli-based government’s Interior Ministry. Migrants rescued at sea and returned to Libya routinely land in detention centers notorious for torture, extortion and abuse. Amnesty International revealed in a report Thursday that thousands of migrants have been forcibly disappeared from unofficial militia-run detention centers.
The shipwreck, the second to be recorded by the UN in as many weeks, “signals the need now more than ever for state-led search and rescue capacity to be redeployed and the need to support NGO vessels operating in a vacuum,” said Msehli.
Since 2017, European countries, particularly Italy, have delegated most search-and-rescue responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard, which intercepts migrant boats before they can reach European waters. Activists have lamented that European authorities are increasingly blocking the work of nongovernmental rescue organizations that patrol the Mediterranean and seek to disembark at European ports.