Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October
Parties to the conflict in Syria will return to the negotiating table in October to discuss a new constitution, says Geir Pederson, UN special envoy for Syria. (AP/File)
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Updated 28 September 2021

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October
  • UN special envoy: Methodology agreed for moving forward in first meeting in 8 months
  • UK ambassador: ‘It’s time for the (Assad) regime to end its artificial delays of the process’

NEW YORK: Parties to the conflict in Syria will return to the negotiating table in October to discuss a new constitution, Geir Pederson, UN special envoy for the country, said on Tuesday.

However, UN Security Council members have warned that obstacles remain to a political resolution to the conflict.

Pederson said Syria’s Constitutional Committee, formed two years ago after intensive negotiations, had agreed on a methodology for moving forward and would meet for the first time in eight months in October.

Up to now, he added, the committee had “not yet begun to make steady progress on its mandate,” which is to draft a new constitution as part of the Syrian peace process initiated in 2015.
The talks, scheduled for mid-October in Geneva, will be the sixth round that the committee has conducted. Parties will deliver their drafts of constitutional texts in the meeting.

“We should all now expect the Constitutional Committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting — not just preparing — a constitutional reform,” Pederson said.

“If it does that, then we’ll have a different and credible constitutional process. We need that if we’re to build a modicum of trust.”

And trust, he said, is a commodity in desperately short supply in Syria. Ten years of war have claimed the lives of 350,000 people — at the very least — and displaced over 12 million.

“It’s clear from all our engagements that trust is low, but it’s also clear that common interests do exist, that things aren’t static, and that there’s every reason to try now to build a more effective political effort,” Pederson added.

Despite the tentative progress, UNSC members continue to express their dissatisfaction with the pace and trajectory of the political process in Syria. 

Barbara Woodward, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, said she welcomes the October meeting but warned that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has not yet participated in the talks in good faith.

“The next meeting needs to be different to those that have gone before,” she added. “It’s time for the regime to end its artificial delays of the process, and for substantive progress to be made on a new constitution, as envisaged in (UN) Resolution 2254.”

That resolution, agreed in 2015, mandates the UN to facilitate a Syrian-led political process to end the war, including the creation of a new constitution.

In 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the resolution, if effectively implemented by all parties, was “the beginning of the political path out of the tragedy” that has afflicted Syria since the popular uprising began in 2011.

Despite the diplomatic agreement, though, the reality on the ground in Syria has meant a political resolution to the conflict has long remained out of reach.

External involvement in the war has complicated the path toward peace as external players have prioritized their interests in the country over that of the Syrian people.

While active fighting has declined in the past two years, the conflict has become frozen — as has the path to a lasting solution.

“Until progress is made on the political process, and until there’s a nationwide ceasefire, the suffering of the Syrian people will continue, and the millions displaced will be unable to return,” said Woodward.

Russia’s UN delegate accused Turkey and Israel of destabilizing the peace process in Syria through their interventions in the country.

Moscow intervened on behalf of the Assad regime in 2015 and turned the tide of the war against the rebels.

Richard Mills, deputy representative of the US to the UN, called on the Assad regime to “unilaterally and immediately release the tens of thousands of arbitrarily detained men, women and children in its custody.”

This, he said, could serve as a “confidence-building” measure that would build trust and “bolster the political process.”

But, echoing the British position, he added: “We haven’t yet seen meaningful efforts from the Syria regime.”


Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise
Updated 6 sec ago

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise

Egyptian, Russian navies launch joint exercise
  • Friendship Bridge 4 is part of Egypt’s plan to carry out joint military training with friendly countries

CAIRO: The Egyptian and Russian navies have launched the joint exercise Friendship Bridge 4, which will last for several days in the Mediterranean.

It began with a ceremony welcoming Russian forces at the Alexandria Naval Base in the presence of Lt. Gen. Ahmed Khaled Hassan Saeed, who delivered a speech in which he stressed the importance of cooperation between the two countries’ navies.

Friendship Bridge 4 is part of Egypt’s plan to carry out joint military training with friendly countries.

 Meanwhile, the armed forces of Egypt and Jordan concluded their joint exercise Aqaba-6. The training, which took place in Jordan, included a joint operation to eliminate an armed terrorist outpost inside a border village, and the interception of a merchant ship.


Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
Updated 07 December 2021

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation

Beirut blast probe judge cleared to continue investigation
  • A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Tarek Bitar from questioning top officials

BEIRUT: The probe into last year’s deadly Beirut port blast has been cleared to resume after being suspended for more than a month on legal claims against its lead investigator, judge Tarek Bitar, a judicial source said.
A Beirut court rejected the last of the suits preventing Bitar from questioning top officials on Tuesday.
“They have reversed the decision that had led to the suspension of the probe and he can now resume his work for sure,” Nizar Saghieh, head of the Legal Agenda, a research and advocacy organization, told Reuters.
The resumption could be temporary should further legal complaints be filed, he said.
The investigation into the Aug. 4, 2020, blast that killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city has made little headway amid pushback from powerful factions, some of whom lead smear campaigns and filed multiple suits against Bitar.
The leader of the Iranian-backed, armed Shiite Muslim political movement Hezbollah has repeatedly said he wanted Bitar removed from the case and the row over him has spilled over into government, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet unable to meet since Oct. 12.
Many Lebanese are angry that more than one year on from the blast no senior official has been held accountable for the country’s worst peace-time disaster as it slips into political and economic meltdown.
Bitar has sought to question senior politicians, including former ministers and members of parliament, since July but nearly all have spurned him.
He is the second judge to take charge of the investigation after a legal complaint against the partiality of his predecessor Fady Sawan saw him removed in February.


Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4
Updated 07 December 2021

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

Motorcycle explosion in southern Iraqi city kills at least 4

BASRA: At least four people were killed and 20 wounded in an explosion in Iraq's southern city of Basra, police and hospital sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police are still investigating the cause of the blast, which took place in the city centre, near a main hospital. The explosion set fire to at least one vehicle and damaged a minibus.
One police source said that an initial investigation showed that a motorcycle rigged with explosives could have been the cause of the blast. 


UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022

UAE government switches weekend to Saturday-Sunday starting 2022
  • The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported

DUBAI: The UAE government will transition to a four-and-a-half-day working week, with Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday forming the new weekend starting Jan. 1, 2022 for all federal departments, state news agency WAM reported. 
The new system will be applied in all federal government entities with working hours from 7:30 a.m. till 3:30 p.m., it added.
Working hours on Fridays will start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 12 noon, with the possibility of flexible working hours or work from home options during those days. Friday sermons and prayers will be after 1:15 p.m. all year long in the UAE. 
The decision is aimed at boosting productivity and improving work-life balance, WAM reported.


UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
Updated 07 December 2021

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed

UAE’s new 50-dirham banknote features Sheikh Zayed
  • It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country
  • The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used

DUBAI: UAE rulers witnessed the launch of a new 50-dirham banknote on Tuesday, in celebration of the country’s 50th National Day. 
The initiative comes in honor of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and the country’s first generation of rulers to commemorate their dedication and historical role in uniting the country.
It is the first polymer banknote to be circulated in the country.
“We see in this issuance the new phase that UAE will enter, and a renewed pledge to continue its growth path. The occasion also allowed us to express our appreciation and gratitude to our founding fathers by issuing a new AED50 banknote to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the UAE,” said Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Central Bank of the UAE. 
The front of the new banknote features a portrait of the late Sheikh Zayed on the right, and the memorial picture of the founding fathers after signing the union document. 
Meanwhile, the back side includes a picture of the late Sheikh Zayed signing the union agreement as well as illustration of the Etihad Museum, which witnessed the establishment of the union and the raising of the UAE flag for the first time.
According to state news agency WAM, the new banknote will be available in Central Bank branches and ATMs ‘in the near future’.
The current 50- dirham note will continue to be used.
Polymer banknotes are said to be more durable and sustainable than traditional cotton paper banknotes, lasting two or more times longer in circulation. They can also be completely recycled, thus reducing their environmental footprint.