Another missed opportunity for peace in Syria
Russia, Turkey and Iran failed to set up a Syrian constitutional committee during a meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana, in what United Nations’ Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Thursday deemed a “missed opportunity,” Reuters reported.
“Special Envoy de Mistura deeply regrets ... there was no tangible progress in overcoming the ten-month stalemate on the composition of the constitutional committee,” said the statement from de Mistura, referring to the Astana process’s 11th round of talks.
“This was the last occasion of an Astana meeting in 2018 and has, sadly for the Syrian people, been a missed opportunity to accelerate the establishment of a credible, balanced and inclusive, Syrian-owned, Syrian-led, UN-facilitated constitutional committee.”
Russia, Turkey, and Iran are the three guarantor countries of the Astana process, a series of talks to establish peace in Syria to support the framework in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
The establishment of a constitutional committee comprising the Syrian government, the opposition and civil society representatives is seen by the UN as a first step for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.
The three guarantor countries said in a joint statement on Wednesday that they had decided to intensify their consultations on all levels to finalise the establishment of the committee, but they did not provide a calendar.
Russia, Turkey and Iran also welcomed the mutual release of detainees on Nov. 24 as part of the Astana process, which they said was a “pilot project” within the framework of the Working Group on the release of detainees and abductees and the handover of bodies, as well as identification of missing persons.
The joint statement also expressed guarantor countries’ concerns regarding the ongoing violations of the ceasefire regime in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.
Turkey and Russia agreed in September on a deal to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, so as to prevent a military assault by the Syrian government.
The Syrian Army pounded rebel positions in southeast Idlib last week, after rebel fighters attacked Syrian government positions and reportedly killed 22 soldiers.
A Syrian military source told Sputnik News that the Syrian military destroyed on Wednesday the tunnels dug by rebel forces near the demilitarised zone in Idlib.
“The Russian side views the outcome of the conference as positive,” Reuters quoted Russia’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev as saying in a briefing in Astana after the talks.
Lavrentiev also said on Wednesday that Russia was ready to help in handling the terrorist threat in Idlib, adding that the province still held a strong contingent of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's branch in Syria between 2013 and 2016, Sputnik reported.
“As you know, a considerable part of Nusra is still in Idlib, around 15,000 fighters. We are counting on the armed groups of the moderate opposition to be able to handle the situation in this troubled region and bring order to it on their own. If necessary, we are ready to assist in different ways, including with the participation of the armed forces of the Syrian government,” he said.
“The participants rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighbouring countries,” Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
According to Diken news site, the statement of the Foreign Ministry and a similar warning included in the Astana joint statement implied opposition to the United States, which has been cooperating with Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years. Ankara’s policy in Syria makes preventing any territorial advancement by Kurdish militia a top priority.
Syria's Envoy to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, urged Turkey to withdraw its armed forces in Syria, Diken reported.
“Instead of meeting its duties for policing with light arms, Turkey sent military staff and heavy equipment to northern Syria,” Jaafari said in Astana, adding that the Syrian government regarded Turkey’s moves as acts of open aggression. “Turkish flags are being hanged in Syrian cities.”