Syria negotiators reach Kazakhstan for peace talks

People watch as members of the Syrian Civil Defense search the rubble of a collapsed building following an explosion in the town of Jisr Al-Shughour, in the Syrian province of Idlib, on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2019

Syria negotiators reach Kazakhstan for peace talks

  • Talks will take place throughout the day in “two-way and three-way formats”
  • UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen was to arrive later in the day

NUR-SULTAN: Delegations from Iran, Russia and Turkey were in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan on Thursday seeking an end to the conflict in Syria while shoring up their interests in any future political settlement.

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that teams from the three powers as well as negotiators from the Syrian regime and its armed opponents had arrived in the capital on Thursday.

Talks will take place throughout the day in “two-way and three-way formats” ahead of an expected plenary session on Friday, the ministry said in a statement.

UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen was to arrive later in the day, the ministry added.

The situation on the ground in the northwestern region of Idlib, under the administrative control of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), is expected to feature prominently in the talks.

Idlib has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and opposition backer Turkey. But regime bombardment has increased since HTS took full control of the region from rival fighters in January. Other items expected to be included in negotiations include prisoner swaps and the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Russia, a backer of Syria’s Bashar Assad, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan that has largely sidelined UN diplomacy.

Tehran, like Moscow, is an ally of Assad’s regime, while Ankara has aligned itself with the opposition but has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish fighters on the Syrian side of its southern border that it views as “terrorists.”

A Western diplomat told AFP that Moscow will be aware of perceptions that recent rounds of the so-called “Astana process” have made little progress and may push to speed up the creation of a long-awaited constitutional committee.

The capital of Kazakhstan was called Astana until last month, when it was renamed after the country’s outgoing president.

The committee is of particular interest to the UN which favors a Syrian-led resolution to the conflict but it may be hamstrung from the outset, the diplomat warned.

“Even if a constitutional committee is created, it will then take a long time to reach a very uncertain result,” the diplomat told AFP.

Any proposal would therefore be “low risk” for Moscow, whose military intervention in 2015 has helped Damascus assert control over two-thirds of the country’s territory. Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.

 


US declares Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land 'consistent' with international law

Updated 18 November 2019

US declares Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land 'consistent' with international law

  • The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians
  • The move is the latest by the Trump administration seen as favoring the Israeli position over the Palestinians

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade position that they were “inconsistent with international law.”

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparked anger among Palestinians who say the settlements are the main barrier to their future state.

The shift in US policy follows the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem last year, a move seen as undermining Palestinian claims to the eastern half of the city as a future capital.

Pompeo said US statements about the settlements on the West Bank - which Israel captured during a 1967 war - had been inconsistent, saying Democrat President Jimmy Carter in 1978 found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981 said he did not view them as inherently illegal.

“The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, drawing criticism from a senior Palestinian figure even before his announcement.

“Another blow to international law, justice & peace,” Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator and member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said on Twitter ahead of Pompeo’s statement.

The announcement marked the third major instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against stances taken by the Palestinians and Arab states even before unveiling its long-delayed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

In 2017 Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel before opening the embassy in the city. US policy had previously been that the status of Jerusalem was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.

In March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Syria, which once held the strategic land.

Trump's move might have been designed to help Netanyahu as he struggles to stay in power. Israeli politics is deadlocked after two inconclusive elections this year. Former military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party emerged neck and neck with Netanyahu following a September vote, and both leaders have struggled to put together a ruling coalition.

*With Reuters