Syrian Regime Rejects 'Direct Talks' in Geneva

Spokesman for the Syrian opposition Yahya Aridi speaks to the media ahead of peace talks in Astana on January 22, 2017. Sergei Grits/AP Photo
Spokesman for the Syrian opposition Yahya Aridi speaks to the media ahead of peace talks in Astana on January 22, 2017. Sergei Grits/AP Photo
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Syrian Regime Rejects 'Direct Talks' in Geneva

Spokesman for the Syrian opposition Yahya Aridi speaks to the media ahead of peace talks in Astana on January 22, 2017. Sergei Grits/AP Photo
Spokesman for the Syrian opposition Yahya Aridi speaks to the media ahead of peace talks in Astana on January 22, 2017. Sergei Grits/AP Photo

Head of the Syrian regime delegation Bashar al-Jaafari arrived in Geneva on Wednesday to attend the new round of intra-Syrian talks - under pressure from Russia - but he informed UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura that he refused to hold direct talks with the High Negotiation Committee delegation, diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Jaafari also presented to de Mistura a number of conditions to resuming any talks between the two sides.

The head of the Syrian regime delegation said that the regime refuses to engage in any direct talks with the opposition delegation and that the HNC must drop its demand that Bashar Assad leaves during the transitional phase in Syria.

The opposition delegation “wants more pressure on the regime to engage in the negotiation and continue in the negotiation to reach a political solution in six months, as (UN Security Council Resolution) 2254 says,” Reuters quoted Head of the HNC Nasr Hariri as saying.

“Just speaking about a political transition without any advancement, we will lose our trust in the process and our people will lose their trust in us and in the process itself,” he added.

The Syrian opposition delegation in Geneva said things were “positive,” now that the opposition is united.

Yahya Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Commission told Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime was currently left with no other choice than to accept the political operation and to get seriously involved in it, adding that Damascus “is totally convinced that the military and security solutions it followed, have proved to be a big failure.”

Meanwhile, Russian ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya accused the US-led coalition of trying to partition Syria by setting up local governing bodies in areas seized from ISIS.

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council Wednesday, Nebenzya complained that the coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters that recently liberated Raqqa from ISIS was discussing setting up governing bodies and restoring the economy without the involvement of Russia's ally, the Syrian regime.



Food Piles Up at Gaza Crossing as Aid Agencies Say Unable to Work

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
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Food Piles Up at Gaza Crossing as Aid Agencies Say Unable to Work

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP
Humanitarian aid for Gaza has piled up at a crucial border crossing - AFP

Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat, AFP reported.

More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine.

Desperation among Gaza's 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from agencies that they are unable to deliver aid.

Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.

"The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.

"Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations."

But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.

It shared aerial footage of containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.

With civil order breaking down in Gaza, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.

A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing "is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area".

William Schomburg, International Committee of the Red Cross chief in Rafah, said arranging lorries from the Egyptian side in particular was complicated.

"It's not just a question of civil order, but also the fact that you often have to cross battlefields," he said in an online briefing, adding that the area near Kerem Shalom had been hostile.

"There were even rockets fired nearby. So this whole area is particularly complicated to navigate for reasons linked to the hostilities and for reasons linked to general security."

Israel's coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday "the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies", saying a lack of distribution was responsible.

Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN "to collect and distribute more aid" alongside an Israeli military presence.

He said most of the aid had not moved because "organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity".

Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel's offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.

Schomburg described Rafah City as a "ghost town".

"It is a ghost town in the sense that you see very few people, high levels of destruction, and really just another symbol of the unfolding tragedy that has become Gaza over the last nine months," he said.

The UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by "desperate people".

As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.

"We don't see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it's all very expensive," said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.

"Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us," she added.