No progress in talks on Syrian constitutional committee

Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev attends a session of the peace talks on Syria in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 April 2019

No progress in talks on Syrian constitutional committee

  • Opposition blames Assad regime for stalemate

JEDDAH: Two-day talks on Syria concluded on Friday in Astana, Kazakhstan, without notable progress on forming a constitutional committee to drive a political settlement in the war-torn country.

A joint statement by the three cosponsors — Iran, Russia and Turkey — said the meeting had broached the issue of the constitutional committee with the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen. Further talks in Geneva would be needed, it added.

Syrian opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi blamed the Assad regime for the stalemate in the talks, telling Arab News: “It doesn’t want a political solution.”

He said: “The regime in particular is obstructing the formation of the constitutional committee in accordance with UN resolution 2254. The regime gets support from Iran in creating hurdles.”

He added: “Russia seems to consider itself a substitute to the UN, when in fact the UN should be the one in charge and the facilitator of negotiations and implementing (resolution) 2254.”

Al-Aridi said the Astana process had a two-fold goal from the start. “The military aspect … was aborted into something called de-escalation zones, but the regime and its supporters turned them into escalation zones,” he added.

“The humanitarian aspect was to establish confidence-building measures, but the regime didn’t do that either.”

Al-Aridi said the issue of the release of prisoners from the regime’s jails was insisted upon in every Astana round, but the regime failed to act.

“Russia said it tried over 300 kinds of weapons on Syrian soil, which means it’s very much for military action, but in the media they portray themselves as favoring a political solution,” he added. “If there’s any terrorism that needs to be fought, it’s the state terrorism of the regime.”

He said “cunning” Iran, which has “a vicious plan for the region,” is out to destroy the Syrian social fabric with its militias.

Bahia Mardini, a human rights campaigner and founder of Syrian House, an organization dedicated to helping Syrians in the UK, told Arab News: “It’s clear that there’s disagreement between the guarantor countries (Iran, Russia and Turkey) over Syria, and that the Russian-American conflict over Syria is still there.”

She urged the international community “to find a real solution that will consolidate democracy and establish a future for Syria on the basis of international resolutions.”

She added: “We call for an end to the suffering of the Syrians … and their participation in building and redrawing the future through a political solution that will lead to the implementation of (resolution) 2254, all relevant international resolutions and the Geneva Declaration to restore the unity of Syrian soil and heal wounds.”

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”