Peace Talks in Syria Officially Begin


Talks on ending the Syrian civil war officially started in Geneva on Monday, February 1. Staffan de Mistura, a Swedish-Italian diplomat and UN Syria envoy, told Reuters that he expected the discussions to be “complicated and difficult”. The main priority is for the talks to continue with everyone on board, de Mistura commented, but that the quality and duration is depending upon the motivation and determination of both parts.

The start of the official peace talks marks hope in the devastated conflict, which is responsible for over 260,000 deaths and 11 millions to leave their homes since the Arab Spring reached Syria in 2011. When the Islamic State of Iraq and ISIL claimed the deaths of 71 people after three bombs was detonated near a shrine in Damascus, the urgency to start negotiations between the government and rebel forces was initiated.While de Mistura failed to guess the length of  the first rounds of talks, he expected that negotiations would have “achieved something” by February 11.

The peace talks were readdressed shortly after the UN announced that the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “in principle” approved for aid to be delivered to besieged Syrian communities. The Islamic state group, government and rebel forces have beleaguered Syrian besieged towns Madaya, al-Foua and Kefraya, which has caused starvation and inhumane living conditions. Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the UN human right chief hopes that the negotiations will end these human rights and international humanitarian law violations. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which is the main opposition party, chose to describe its meeting with the Syria UN envoy as “positive”.

The talks with de Mistura were dominated by objectives to dismantle besieged towns, a precondition from Salem al-Meslet, the spokesman of HNC, to engage in discussions. Al-Meslet harshly criticised the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, since four months ago he initiated an air campaign backing the Syrian regime. Under Russian air strikes, the Syrian government has taken numbers of towns, by targeting opponents of Al-Assad’s regime, including groups supported by the US. The HNC is supported by Washington and Riyadh, and is headed by Mohammed Alloush, member of the Jaish al-Islam. According to Russia, the organisation is classified as a terrorist group, another element reinforcing the complex nature of the conflict.

At this point the situation is fragile, the HNC threaten to renounce involvement in the negotiation if the government doesn’t stop attacking civilians. The leader of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari responded by labelling the HNC, days before the official peace talks, as “not serious”. Despite the far distance between the sides, they both agreed to continue close contact as discussions proceed. The UN Security Council resolution outlined the peace talks, which was a result of a Vienna meeting in November. The Council has given a timetable of 18 months for political transition, including elections and outlining of a new constitution. Now the UN Syria envoy has to keep the process active and persuade outside powers to ease the probability for ceasefire in Syria.



Sally Wennergren