UN Security Council Agrees Syria Peace Process Resolution

syria crisisThe five permanent of the UN Security Council have agreed the text of a draft UN resolution for the Syrian peace process, diplomats say.

The 15-member council is expected to adopt the resolution later on Friday, officials said.

World powers have been meeting in New York with the aim of advancing a tentative plan to bring about a ceasefire in Syria.

The Syrian war, which is heading towards its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people, the BBC reports.
Nearly 12 million people have also been displaced, the UN says.

The draft text asks the UN to bring together the Syrian government and the opposition for talks by early January.
It also said that a ceasefire should be implemented in parallel with the talks.

However, actions against groups considered terrorist organisations would not be affected. This would allow Russian, French and US air-strikes against Islamic State to continue.

However, one of the major sticking points so far has been which rebel groups should be considered terrorist outfits and consequently excluded from any talks or ceasefire.

Syrian Conflict: Islamic State Advances In Homs Province

SyrianMeanwhile, Isis continues its horrific acts in the Middle East where reports say Islamic State (IS) fighters have captured the Syrian town of Maheen, in central Homs province, from government forces.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the jihadist group launched the offensive with two suicide car blasts late on Saturday.

Clashes are also taking place in nearby Sadad, a mostly-Christian town. The Observatory says at least 50 government soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting.

IS fighters seized the central city of Palmyra in May and have also made gains in Aleppo province in recent days.

The Observatory’s Rami Abdulrahman said the attack on Maheen may have been prompted by pressure IS is facing elsewhere in Syria.

“Daesh (Isis) always looks for advances against the regime after failures in the areas it controls in northern Syria,” he told Reuters

The latest development comes amid air campaigns in Syria by Russia and a US-led coalition.

The five major foreign players in the Syrian conflict – the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey – met in Vienna on October 30 and agreed to push for a ceasefire.

Leaders Make Progress In Talks On Syrian Conflict

Iranian exie campLeaders are said to be making much progress at their talks in Vienna, on the political crisis in Syria.

The meeting, which has Iran attending for the first time, is aimed at closing the gap between the United States (US) and its allies, who support the rebels, and the key foreign allies of the Syrian government, which are Russia and Iran.

Both countries have recently stepped up their military involvement in the four year conflict in Syria, backing the Syria military forces.

But the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab Nations have long insisted that Mr. Assad cannot play a long-term role in Syria’s future.

Iran’s Foreign Minister said that other powers have realised that there was no way of reaching ‘a reasonable solution’ to the Syrian conflict, without involving Tehran.

Syrian Crisis: Major Powers Hold Talks In Vienna

syrian crisisInitial talks to resolve the Syrian crisis is set to open in Vienna. This meeting seeks to bridge the gap between the United States (US) and its allies. 

Foreign powers backing rival sides in Syria’s civil war hope the meeting would also settle scores with those who support the rebels, and the key foreign allies of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran.

Iran is participating in the diplomatic talks for the first time.

United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has urged participants to show “flexibility” and “global leadership”.

The four-year-old war in Syria, which began with an uprising against Mr. Assad, has left 250,000 people dead and forced half the country’s population – or 11 million people – from their homes.

Russia Backs Syrian Forces In Major Assault On Insurgents

syriaSyrian troops and militia backed by Russian warplanes mounted what appeared to be their first major coordinated assault on Syrian insurgents on Wednesday and Moscow said its warships fired a barrage of missiles at them from the Caspian Sea, a sign of its new military reach.

The combined operation hit towns close to the main north-south highway that runs through major cities in the mainly government-held west of Syria, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group which tracks the conflict via a network of sources within the country.

Ground attacks by Syrian government forces and their militia allies using heavy surface-to-surface missile bombardments hit at least four insurgent positions and there were heavy clashes, the head of the Observatory, Rami Abdulrahman, said.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia took part in the fight, according to a regional source who is familiar with the military situation in Syria.

Abdulrahman said later there was no sign that Syrian troops and their allies had made any tangible advances on the ground.

They briefly entered one town, but were forced to pull back, he said, and around 15 of their tanks or armored vehicles had been either destroyed or disabled.

Islamic State militants have seized much from Syria since civil war grew out of anti-government protests in 2011, but the areas targeted in Wednesday’s combined assault are held by other rebels, some U.S.-backed, fueling accusations by Russia’s critics that its real aim is to help the government.

Moscow says it shares the West’s aim of preventing the spread of Islamic State, and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during a televised meeting that four Russian warships in the Caspian Sea had launched 26 missiles at Islamic State in Syria earlier in the day.

The missiles would have passed over Iran and Iraq to reach their targets, covering what Shoigu described as a distance of almost 1,500 km (900 miles), the latest display of Russian military power at a time when relations with the West are at a post-Cold War low over Ukraine.

The terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles, known by NATO by the codename Sizzler, fly at an altitude of 50 meters and are accurate to within three meters, the Russian defense ministry said.

The air campaign in Syria has caught Washington and its allies on the back foot and alarmed Syria’s northern neighbor Turkey, which says its air space has been repeatedly violated by Russian jets.

Ankara summoned Russia’s ambassador for the third time in four days over the reported violations, which NATO has said appeared to be deliberate and were “extremely dangerous”.

Syria Conflict: Russia Wants ‘Coordination’ Against IS

Russia-Putin-ISRussia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has again reiterated his support for Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, saying the latter is fighting terrorist organisations, and Russia “will be pleased to find common ground for joint action against the terrorists”.

In a television interview in the United States (US), Mr. Putin also called for a regional “coordinating structure” against Islamic State (IS).

The crisis in Syria is expected to top the agenda as world leaders gather at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York.

Mr. Putin will also hold rare talks with the US President, Barack Obama, to discuss the issue later on Monday.

Relations between Russia and the West have been strained ever since Moscow’s annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Kurds In Northeast Syria Form Local Democratic Administration

Some of Syria’s 2.2 million Kurds in the northeast corner of Syria have taken another step towards the long-term dream of creating an independent state of “Kurdistan” by forming a local democratic administration aimed at rebuilding the area.

Stability is emerging amid the country’s civil war, with the residents of the area looking at rebuilding rather than bombing.

Local leaders have launched projects to revive normal life and encourage people to stay. They are creating a regional administration, producing cheap fuel, subsidizing seeds for crops and trying to restore electricity to an area that had lost power for nearly 24 hours a day. And so far they are fighting off the forces of both President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels who want to oust him.

The people now in control here are Kurds, an ethnic group that forms the majority of the population in parts of northern Syria, eastern Turkey, northern Iraq and western Iran.

“We have no power or water. Food is short. But before, our minds and spirits were repressed. Now our dreams are becoming reality. This is the Kurdish moment. Going back to the way we were is not an option. It would be a betrayal of those who sacrificed their lives,” a 30-year-old teacher, Hardin said.

Not Independence

For years the 30 million Kurds spread across those territories have been the world’s largest ethnic group without an independent homeland. Only the Kurds in Iraq, who displaced Iraqi forces in the 1990s when a U.S. and British no-fly zone was in place against Saddam Hussein, have managed to carve out an area of real autonomy.

On Tuesday, on the eve of peace talks in Switzerland, Kurds in Syria declared a provincial government in the area. The move came after international powers denied their request to send a separate delegation to the peace talks.

Local leaders insist they have no plans for secession but say they are preparing a local constitution and aim to hold elections early this year. This is not independence but “local democratic administration,” they say.

Both Damascus and neighbouring Turkey fear the Kurds’ growing autonomy will pave the way for secession.

Hold Syrian Peace Talks Soon, Says U.N. Chief

A proposed international conference to try to stop Syria’s civil war should be held as soon as possible, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday, but no date has yet been agreed for a meeting that appears to face growing obstacles.

Ban spoke as U.N. officials announced that the number of refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria, a conflict that has claimed the lives of 80,000 people over the past two years, had exceeded 1.5 million as conditions there deteriorate rapidly.

Western leaders have been cautious about the prospects of the talks achieving any breakthrough, and Russia’s desire that Iran should attend could complicate matters because of potential opposition from the West. The main Syrian opposition, expected to decide its stance next week, has previously demanded President Bashar al-Assad’s exit before any talks.

A rising death toll, new reports of atrocities by both sides, suspicion that chemical arms may have been used and the absence of prospects for a military solution have all pushed Washington and Moscow to agree to convene the conference.

“We should not lose the momentum,” Ban said of the proposal to bring the Syrian government and opposition representatives to the conference table. “There is a high expectation that this meeting should be held as soon as possible,” he said after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov agreed: “The sooner the better,” he told a joint news conference with Ban, who was due to meet President Vladimir Putin later on Friday.

Iran is a U.S. foe and the main regional ally of Assad’s government, which has also received support from Russia.

“Moscow proceeds from the position that all the neighboring countries, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the participants of the first Geneva conference, must be invited,” Lavrov said, referring to an international meeting on Syria held last June.

Last year’s Geneva talks produced an agreement that a transitional government should be created in Syria, but the United States and Russia disagreed over whether that meant Assad must leave power.

INNER CIRCLE

Moscow says his exit must not be a precondition for a political solution, but most Syrian opposition figures have ruled out talks unless Assad and his inner circle are excluded from any future transitional government.

Lavrov said opposition participation would be crucial.

“The main thing now is to understand who, from the Syrian sides, is ready to take part in this conference – without that, nothing will happen at all,” he said.

“And the second task is to determine the circle of participants from other countries in addition to Syria.”

The United States said on Thursday that it was not ruling anyone in or out of the conference, while France voiced opposition to Iranian participation.

Pressure has grown on Western countries to act after reports that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons, which U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders have described as a “red line”. The White House says it believes Syrian forces probably used poison gas but the evidence is not certain.

Assad and the rebels both have accused each other of using chemical weapons in Aleppo in December and in Homs in March. Syria is not a party to international treaties banning poison gas but says it would never use it in an internal conflict. The rebels say they have no access to it.

A team of U.N.-led chemical weapons experts has been ready for more than a month to investigate the rival allegations, but has been held up by diplomatic wrangling and safety concerns. Ban urged Syria on Friday to give the experts unfettered access.

Syria wants the U.N. team to probe only the Aleppo attack, but Ban wants the inquiry to cover both incidents.

“It is regrettable that this investigation team has not been able to visit and enter Syria to have an on-site investigation,” Ban said. “I have a mandate to conduct an investigation whenever there are allegations and wherever there are allegations.”

The team’s leader, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom “has been gathering information from various sources, including certain government sources, but it is important – crucially important – that he would be able to conduct an on-site investigation”, Ban said, adding that the team was ready to deploy at any time.

Lavrov said Russia believed Syria could agree to inspections of other sites after a probe of the incident near Aleppo.

Obama said he reserved the right to resort to either diplomatic or military options to pressure Assad but U.S. action alone would not be enough to resolve the crisis.

Russia, with China, has opposed sanctions against Syria and blocked three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed to increase pressure on Assad during the conflict, which began in March 2011 with a crackdown on protests.

U.S. media reported that Russia had deployed naval ships to the eastern Mediterranean off Syria and also sent advanced missiles in a show of support for Assad.

Russia had sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus, a military outpost that gives Moscow a toehold in the Middle East, the wall Street Journal reported.

The New York Times said Russia had sent advance Yakhonts cruise missiles to Syria, which give the government a formidable weapon to deter foreign forces from any intervention.