The so-called “Arab Spring” which got entire Mideast (except nuclear Israel) destabilized, while in Syria the incumbent president Assad is still defiant, adamant, and refusing to step down. The USA and Russia back opposing sides in Syria’s five-year civil war, which has left more than 250,000 people dead and displaced more than 11 million others.
USA and the Syrian opposition seek the removal of President Assad from power as their main condition for permanent peace in Syria. Russia supports Syrian government and, just what USA is doing in Syria on usual fake pretexts, kills Syrians on a special military deal with Assad.
As America was enjoying the horrid scenes of genocides of Muslims in Syria, Russia also has joined the party by targeting the Syrians by high speed war planes. As per their plan of fighting wars in alien nations, killing people at will, US-Russian state terror forces keep killing Muslims in Syria and if that strategy works, possibly they do the same in other Arab nations as well on some fictitious pretexts.
As Russia showed some interest in ending the Syrian war at least temporarily, a partial truce brokered by the USA and Russia in Syria came into effect at sunset on September 12, the beginning of the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha. The Syrian government has given its backing, but a number of rebel groups have expressed strong reservations and have yet to say whether they will abide by it.
The cessation agreement included deliveries of humanitarian aid for the worst hit areas, but by Monday most shipments had yet to go in. They include a 20-lorry convoy for rebel-held eastern Aleppo where about 275,000 civilians are trapped without access to food or medical supplies. UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien said he was “pained and disappointed” that the convoy had yet to cross into Syria from Turkey. Some aid was delivered to the besieged town of Talbiseh in Homs province on Monday, the Red Cross said.
The deal, which begins with a 48-hour renewable truce, involves three phases: The Syrian government will stop flying combat missions “anywhere where the opposition is present”. Kerry said the government would no longer be able to use the claim that it was bombing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters to mask attacks against “legitimate” rebels operating in the same areas. Both sides will be required to allow unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas. A priority will be the second city of Aleppo and its surroundings, where as many as two million people live. Government and rebel forces will pull back from the Castello Road, a major artery running around the north of the city into the rebel-held east. They will also provide safe access through the south-western Ramouseh Gap area.
Providing there are seven consecutive days of significantly reduced violence and humanitarian access, the US and Russia will work together to “develop military strikes” against Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and IS. A Joint Implementation Centre will be established to share information necessary for the delineation of territories controlled by jihadist and rebel groups in areas of active hostilities.
After 10 months of negotiations that the US said were marred by deep “mistrust”, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that they had reached an agreement on a “sustainable” cessation of hostilities that would facilitate negotiations on a political settlement. If successful, it will see President Bashar al-Assad’s forces ending air strikes on territory controlled by mainstream rebels, and both sides allowing humanitarian access to besieged areas. It will also lead to co-ordinated air strikes by the US and Russia against two UN-designated terrorist organisations – so-called Islamic State and the rival jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda in July and changed its name.
The truce has broadly held since taking effect although the Russian-backed Syrian army and rebels have accused each other of many violations. Meanwhile, the UN has warned there is a “problem” with getting aid into Syria. Special envoy Staffan de Mistura placed responsibility on the Syrian government which, he said, had not yet provided the “facilitation letters” that would allow aid convoys to pass through army checkpoints and reach besieged areas.
Earlier, the Syrian military said its seven-day “regime of calm” had expired. Government-backed air strikes were also reported in the city of Homs and in the cities of Hama and Idlib. It said rebel groups, which it referred to as “terrorists”, had failed to commit to any provisions of the truce deal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry criticised the Syrian declaration, saying: “It would be good if they didn’t talk first to the press but if they talked to the people who are actually negotiating this.” He had earlier described the truce as “holding but fragile”. Russian military spokesman Lt Gen Sergei Rudskoi said in a televised statement: “Considering that the conditions of the ceasefire are not being respected by the rebels, we consider it pointless for the Syrian government forces to respect it unilaterally.”
Russia has accused the USA of failing to fulfill its obligations under the truce agreement in Syria. A defence ministry statement said Washington was using a “verbal curtain” to hide its reluctance to rein in the rebel groups it supports. “Only the Syrian army has been observing the ceasefire regime… while the US-led ‘moderate opposition’ has been increasing the number of shellings of residential quarters,” the ministry statement said. “Moreover, it appears that the ‘verbal curtain’ of Washington is aimed at hiding the non-fulfillment of the US obligations.”
Russian defence ministry insisted that, from the very beginning of the truce, Moscow had been fulfilling its obligations, which includes ensuring that the Syrian air force does not bomb areas held by mainstream rebel forces and setting up checkpoints in divided second city of Aleppo. It therefore said it found “confusing” recent comments by US officials that expressed doubts about whether Russia would be able to deliver.
The USA has not reacted to the comments from Moscow, but the state department did acknowledge some incidents “on the part of both the opposition and the Assad regime” were continuing.
Meanwhile, with a cessation of hostilities taking effect across Syria, people across the war-torn country have been sharing photos and videos of themselves enjoying a rare moment of relative calm. Posts from the divided northern city of Aleppo have for months been almost exclusively about bombings, destruction and the suffering of civilians, even before government forces renewed their siege of rebel-held eastern districts where some 250,000 people live. There was a sense of relief and cautious optimism after several very difficult months.
Less than 24 hours after the truce began, Aleppo residents were suggesting that life was slowly returning to normal – or at least as normal as could be expected under the circumstances. Social media backed up reports that the cessation of hostilities was broadly holding. Many users initially provided frequent updates on whether government and rebel forces were abiding by the agreement announced on Saturday by Russia and US, who back opposing sides.
The USA, which brokered the deal with Russia, said it was working to extend the agreement. But it called on Russia to clarify the Syrian statement. “Our arrangement is with Russia, which is responsible for the Syrian regime’s compliance, so we expect Russia to clarify their position,” state department spokesman John Kirby said.
UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes had hit rebel-held areas in Aleppo and villages to the west. Artillery shelling and air strikes hit Sukkari and Amiriyah, two eastern districts.
The truce was dealt a blow when warplanes from the US-led coalition against so-called Islamic State (IS) accidentally bombed Syrian troops in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. Officials said the strikes killed more than 60 soldiers. President Bashar al-Assad called them the “latest example of flagrant American aggression against Syrian army positions in the interests of the terrorist organisation Daesh (ISIS)]”. The UK confirmed that British aircraft – believed to be unmanned, remotely-piloted Reaper drones – had been involved in the strike, along with jets from Australia and Denmark.
It is, however, too early to tell whether the truce will hold and the calm last, but after five years of war Syrians are clinging to this moment of hope. Air strikes have hit rebel-held parts of the Syrian city of Aleppo after the military declared the current cessation of violence was over. The Syrian military and rebels have accused each other of repeatedly violating the truce which began seven days ago.
Murdering of Muslims is not a new thing for both the USA and Russia that claim to hold further talks on the Syrian situation in New York today. If USA and Russia are really determined to end war in Syria they will certainly achieve that objective without more bloodbaths.
After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians
The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.
According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.
The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.
“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”
Scandal of Al Hol’s children
Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.
“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”
Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
Blockades and bombardment
The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.
“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.
In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.
Living in fear
In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.
At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.
Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.
Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.
The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”
Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants
The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.
“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”
IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking
A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?
The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.
Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.
When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.
Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible. Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.
Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.
The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.
It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.
“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.
I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.
Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.
Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya
With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday.
Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December.
They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year.
At the crossroads
“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš. “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.”
He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.
Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation.
Foreign fighter threat
The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline.
“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.
“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.”
Young voters eager
The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results.
He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country.
So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women. Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots.
“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš.
He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.
“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned. “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”
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