Two years of stalemate show a military solution in Syria is an illusion, says UN envoy

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 27 January 2022

Two years of stalemate show a military solution in Syria is an illusion, says UN envoy

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the SDF. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Geir Pedersen also told the Security Council that the humanitarian tragedy in the country is “only deepening,” with 14 million people now in need of aid to survive a harsh winter
  • America’s ambassador said her country is frustrated with the stalled efforts of the Syrian Constitutional Committee and the ‘unwillingness’ of the Assad regime to make progress

NEW YORK: The strategic stalemate in Syria makes it clear that no warring faction has the ability to decisively affect the outcome of the decade-long conflict, and so the idea that there can be a military solution is “an illusion,” the UN’s special envoy to Syria told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Despite the continued violence and suffering, (there have) been no shifts in the front lines for nearly two years,” Geir Pedersen said.

“It is clear that no existing actor or group of actors can determine the trajectory or outcome of this conflict, and indeed that the military solution remains an illusion.”

The envoy highlighted the precarious security situation that exists in several parts in the country, where “Syrians continue to suffer deeply.”

He said the violence continues unabated, including airstrikes on Idlib that kill civilians and damage infrastructure, mutual shelling across the front lines, hostilities in the northeast, improvised explosive device attacks in the north, and the Israeli shelling of the main commercial port of Latakiah. There have also been security incidents involving drug smuggling and Daesh attacks in the northeastern and central Syria, he added.

On a humanitarian level, Pedersen said the tragedy of the Syrian people is “only deepening,” exacerbated by the freezing winter conditions.

“14 million civilians now need humanitarian assistance,” he said. “More than 12 million remain displaced. Tens of thousands are detained, abducted or missing. The economy of Syria has collapsed. Criminality and smuggling are flourishing. And there are reports of young people seeking any opportunity to leave the country, sometimes falling prey to traffickers and warlords.

“Education is fragmented and severely degraded, as indeed are institutions and infrastructure across the board. The country remains de facto divided and society is deeply fractured. Syrians see no concrete progress toward a political solution.”

Having established this backdrop, the Norwegian envoy briefed the 15 members of the Security Council on his most recent efforts to advance the diplomatic process. He updated them on his meetings in recent weeks with officials from Germany, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Qatar and the UK to discuss the status of Syria’s Constitutional Committee, the most recent meeting of which took place in October last year.

In December, Perdersen’s deputy, Khawla Mattar from Bahrain, attended an Astana-format meeting in Kazakhstan where she met senior officials from Russia, Turkey, Iran, and the Syrian government and opposition.

She also met with representatives of the Working Group on the Release of Detainees and Abductees and the Handover of Bodies and the Identification of Missing Persons. Pedersen said good proposals emerged from that meeting “but what is absolutely needed is for these ideas now to be followed up on, as we are urging all stakeholders to do.”

Pedersen said he has also held a series of bilateral meetings with officials from Russia, the EU, Turkey, Qatar, the Arab League, Germany, France, Italy, the UK and the US. He described these consultations as a “rolling process where it will be necessary to revert to interlocutors repeatedly over time.”

He added: “My question to all interlocutors is the same: Can you identify not only what you demand, but also what you are prepared to put on the table in exchange for steps from the other side?”

The envoy said he seeks “fresh ideas from any quarter that could bring about action” on issues such as detainees and missing persons; the safe and “voluntary” return of refugees; restoring an economy that has “collapsed after more than a decade of war, corruption, mismanagement;” establishing calm throughout Syria; cooperation in fighting terrorism; and thoughts on the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon.

Pedersen also highlighted the plight of civilians at Al-Ghuwayran prison in Al-Hasakah, northeastern Syria, which was the scene of an attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week that left at least 300 detainees dead.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 45,000 civilians have been displaced by the clashes that followed and retaliatory airstrikes from the US-led global coalition in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces on the ground.

Fionnula Ni Aolain, a UN human rights expert, expressed serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children locked up the prison.

She said boys as young as 12 are living “in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail (and) are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.”

Pedersen said: “UNICEF drew attention to reports of (Daesh) members being holed up in dormitories for minors, putting hundreds of children in detention at risk.

“This episode brings back terrible memories of the prison breaks that fueled the original rise of (Daesh) in 2014 and 2015.

“I see this as a clear message to us all of the importance of uniting to combat the threat of internationally-proscribed terrorist groups — and to resolve the broader conflict in which terrorism inevitably thrives.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent representative of the US to the UN, said that the ongoing situation in Al-Hasakah “a stark reminder” that Daesh “remains a real threat.”

She also reiterated her country’s support for the diplomatic process in Syria and lamented the “less than constructive comments” by some states about Pedersen’s effort to advance the dialogue.

She singled out Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, quoting his public statement that Pedersen’s “steps-for-steps model as a way to resolve the crisis in Syria is unacceptable for us.” 

Thomas-Greenfield said her country shares Pedersen’s frustration with the lack of progress by the Syrian Constitutional Committee, and expressed disappointment “with the Assad regime participants’ unwillingness to make progress toward this end.”

Ambassador Mohammed Abushabab, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed support for Pedersen’s efforts and told the council that his country’s vision of a peaceful solution in Syria involves “opening channels of communication and building bridges, creating opportunities to support and reinvigorate the Constitutional Committee and ending foreign interference.”

He added: “Creating an appropriate environment to achieve peace and stability in Syria requires an end to foreign interference in Syrian affairs. We stress here the importance of preserving the unity, independence and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.

“In this context, the UAE supports the call of the United Nations secretary-general and the special envoy for Syria to reach an immediate ceasefire throughout the country, and we stress the importance of maintaining and sustaining it.”


Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa

Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa
Updated 13 sec ago

Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa

Pope Francis sends condolences to UAE for Sheikh Khalifa
  • Pontiff joins the people of the Emirates in ‘mourning his passing and paying tribute to his distinguished and far-sighted leadership’
  • Head of the Catholic church praises the late leader for promoting religious understanding as contained in the historic Abu Dhabi Document and Zayed Award for Human Fraternity

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has said that he is “saddened” by the death of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, former president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi.

In a message, the leader of the Catholic church sent his condolences to newly appointed UAE president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and to the country’s people, invoking “an abundance of divine blessings.”

The Pope expressed his “heartfelt condolences and the assurance of my prayers for his eternal rest.”

“I likewise join the people of the Emirates in mourning his passing and paying tribute to his distinguished and far-sighted leadership in the service of the nation.”

The Catholic leader said he was “particularly grateful for the solicitude shown by His Highness to the Holy See and to the Catholic communities of the Emirates, and for his commitment to the values of dialogue, understanding and solidarity between peoples and religious traditions solemnly proclaimed by the historic Abu Dhabi Document and embodied in the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.”

“May his legacy continue to inspire the efforts of men and women of good will everywhere to persevere in weaving bonds of unity and peace between the members of our one human family,” he added.

Francis also offered prayers for Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed as he takes up the responsibilities of the UAE presidency.

“Upon you, the members of your family, and upon all the beloved people of the United Arab Emirates, I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings.”

Friar Giuseppe Ciutti, an Italian priest who spent time in Iraq, told Arab News that this message from the Pope was “a clear sign of the personal (and) great respect he felt for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.”

“Pope Francis visited Abu Dhabi in 2019; that was the first visit of a Roman Catholic Church (leader) to the Arab Peninsula. During that trip the Pope … promoted values of fraternity, peace, and peaceful coexistence.”

On that visit, Francis paid tribute to the UAE as “a land that is trying to be a model of coexistence, of human brotherhood, and a meeting place among diverse civilizations and cultures.”

“Pope Francis always refers to that trip every time he talks about the progress in interreligious dialogue. His message can be read as a new sign of friendship by the Catholic (church) towards the Arab world,” he said.

The UAE is home to nearly a million Roman Catholics, most of them from the Philippines and India.


Israel approves ultranationalist Jewish march in Jerusalem

Israel approves ultranationalist Jewish march in Jerusalem
Updated 22 min 43 sec ago

Israel approves ultranationalist Jewish march in Jerusalem

Israel approves ultranationalist Jewish march in Jerusalem
  • The office of Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said the march would take place on May 29 along its “customary route” through Damascus Gate
  • Each year, thousands of Israeli nationalists participate in the march, waving Israeli flags, singing songs and in some cases, chanting anti-Arab slogans

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities on Wednesday said they have given the go-ahead for flag-waving Jewish nationalists to march through the heart of the main Palestinian thoroughfare in Jerusalem’s Old City later this month.
The decision that threatens to re-ignite violence in the holy city.
The office of Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev said the march would take place on May 29 along its “customary route” through Damascus Gate.
Each year, thousands of Israeli nationalists participate in the march, waving Israeli flags, singing songs and in some cases, chanting anti-Arab slogans, as they pass by Palestinian onlookers and businesses.
Barlev’s office said the decision was made after consultations with police.
The march is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel subsequently annexed the area in a step that is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Last year’s Gaza war erupted as the march was just getting underway, even after authorities changed the route at the last moment to avoid Damascus Gate.
The Old City, located in east Jerusalem, has experienced weeks of violent confrontations between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators, and the march threatens triggering new unrest.
Tensions also have been heightened by an Israeli police crackdown during the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh last Friday. As the funeral procession got underway, police pushed and beat mourners, causing the pallbearers to lose control of the coffin and nearly drop it.
Abu Akleh, a well-known journalist, was fatally shot while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank last week. The Palestinians, including witnesses who were with her, say she was shot by Israeli troops. Israel says that Palestinian gunmen were active in the area, and it is not clear who fired the deadly bullet.


Egypt calls for calm after violence rocks Libyan capital  

Egypt calls for calm after violence rocks Libyan capital  
Updated 18 May 2022

Egypt calls for calm after violence rocks Libyan capital  

Egypt calls for calm after violence rocks Libyan capital  
  • Rival armed factions clash as PM Fathi Bashagha arrives in Tripoli to take over government
  • Clashes come after Government of National Unity headed by Abdel Hamid Dabaiba refuses to hand over power

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that it is following events in Tripoli with “concern” after violent clashes erupted overnight in the Libyan capital.

Rival armed factions clashed after the parliament-appointed prime minister Fathi Bashagha tried to take over government but was forced to withdraw by the Government of National Unity headed by Abdel Hamid Dabaiba and in the face of opposition from Libya’s military.

Egypt has called for calm after the clashes, which come after weeks of dispute over Libya’s premiership.

“We stress once again the need to maintain calm in Libya, and to preserve the lives, property and capabilities of the Libyan people,” Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said.

Egypt urged all Libyan parties to exercise restraint and refrain from taking any steps that would fuel violence.

The Foreign Ministry stressed “the inevitability of dialogue in order to reach the holding of presidential and legislative elections in Libya simultaneously and without delay.”

It warned of the “importance of the constitutional track dialogue currently taking place in Cairo, in a way that achieves the aspirations and hopes of the brotherly Libyan people in moving toward the future at a steady pace.”

According to Libyan reports, the clashes erupted in the Mansoura and Souk Al-Thalath areas, in the center of Tripoli, hours after Bashagha arrived in the city to begin the work of his government mandated by the Libyan House of Representatives stationed in the east of the country.


Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians
Updated 49 min 50 sec ago

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians
  • The Times report said that 70 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in the strike
  • The US ground force commander for the anti-Daesh coalition received a request for air strike support from Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the extremists

WASHINGTON: An investigation into a 2019 strike by US forces in Syria that killed numerous civilians found no violations of policy or wanton negligence, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The internal US Army investigation focused on an operation by a special US force operating in Syria which launched an airstrike on a Daesh bastion in Baghouz on March 18, 2019.
The investigation was sparked last year after the New York Times reported that in the original strike the US military had covered up dozens of non-combatant deaths.
The Times report said that 70 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in the strike.
The Times report said a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” and that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
But the final report of the investigation rejected that conclusion Tuesday.
It said that the US ground force commander for the anti-Daesh coalition received a request for air strike support from Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the extremists.
The commander “received confirmation that no civilians were in the strike area” and authorized the strike.
However, they later found out there were civilians at the location.
“No Rules of Engagement or Law of War violations occurred,” the investigation said.
In addition, the commander “did not deliberately or with wanton disregard cause civilian casualties,” it said.
The report said that “administrative deficiencies” delayed US military reporting on the strike, giving the impression that it was being covered up.
The Times cited an initial assessment of the incident saying that about 70 civilians could have been killed.
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that 52 combatants were killed, 51 of them adult males and one child, while four civilians died, one woman and three children.
Another 15 civilians, 11 women and four children, were wounded, he said.
Asked if anyone was being punished for the civilian deaths, Kirby said the investigation did not find the need to hold any individuals accountable.
The probe “did not find that anybody acted outside the law of war, that there was no malicious intent,” Kirby said.
“While we don’t always get everything right, we do try to improve. We do try to be as transparent as we can about what we learn,” he said.


World’s tallest building engulfed as Mideast sandstorms hit UAE

World’s tallest building engulfed as Mideast sandstorms hit UAE
Updated 18 May 2022

World’s tallest building engulfed as Mideast sandstorms hit UAE

World’s tallest building engulfed as Mideast sandstorms hit UAE
  • The 828m Burj Khalifa, which towers over Dubai and is usually visible across the financial hub, retreated behind a curtain of airborne dirt that shrouded much of the country
  • The Middle East’s sandstorms are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend associated with overgrazing and deforestation, overuse of river water and more dams

DUBAI: The world’s tallest building disappeared behind a grey layer of dust on Wednesday as sandstorms that have swept the Middle East hit the United Arab Emirates, prompting weather and traffic warnings.
The 828-meter (2,716 ft, 6ins) Burj Khalifa, which towers over Dubai and is usually visible across the busy financial hub, retreated behind a curtain of airborne dirt that shrouded much of the country.
The UAE is just the latest country in the path of sandstorms that have smothered Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran and others in recent days, closing airports and schools and sending thousands to hospital with breathing problems.
Capital city Abu Dhabi’s air quality index (AQI) soared into the “hazardous” zone overnight, according to waqi.info and the Plume pollution app.
The Middle East’s sandstorms are becoming more frequent and intense, a trend associated with overgrazing and deforestation, overuse of river water and more dams.
Experts say the phenomenon could worsen as climate change warps regional weather patterns and drives desertification.
Emirati authorities issued a nationwide warning urging residents to remain vigilant.
“Abu Dhabi Police urges drivers to be cautious due to low visibility during high winds and dust,” the police force tweeted, as residents took to social media to publish photos and videos.
“Please do not be distracted by taking any videos or using your phone,” it added.
A National Center for Meteorology graphic showed nearly all the country covered by the storm, with the warning: “Be on the alert: hazardous weather events are expected.”
Winds with speeds up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour are blowing the dust, it said, reducing visibility in some areas to less than 2,000 meters (2,200 yards).
However, a Dubai airports spokesman said there was no impact on air traffic. Weather conditions were expected to remain the same for the next few days.
In neighboring Saudi Arabia, badly hit on Tuesday, conditions eased in the capital Riyadh on Wednesday but continued to restrict visibility in the city center.
Emergency rooms in Riyadh hospitals received some 1,285 people suffering from respiratory problems over 24 hours from the sandstorm, the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel reported late on Tuesday.
The Saudi national weather center reported that dust was also affecting visibility in the west and south, specifically in Assir, Najran, Hael and Medina provinces. Medina is home to Medina city, the second-holiest city in Islam.
The center predicted another sandstorm would arrive in the kingdom by Sunday.