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Syria silenced amid peace talks

Danish ship vessels transport chemical weapons picked up from Syrian water way borders head to Cyprus
Danish ship vessels transport chemical weapons picked up from Syrian water way borders head to Cyprus
Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images

Members from the Syrian Government and the opposition delegation met again Thursday to discuss political solutions to end the country’s ongoing civil war were left with no breakthrough or “any real change in position” of either side. With one day left for negotiations until another session takes place February 10, the first round of talks will end with only minimal progress where today both sides stood together in silence to honor victims of the three year old conflict.

Opposition delegate Ahmad Jakal told Reuters reporters his delegation head, Hadi al-Bahra, proposed the minute of silence and all sides, including President Bashar al-Assad’s government, stood up.

"All stood up for the souls of the martyrs. Symbolically it was good," Jakal told Reuters.

Security issues and terrorism along with humanitarian aid were among the topics touched on today with little compromise. The two sides agreed that “terrorism does exist in Syria and that is a very serious problem” Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States said, however no agreement was reach on how to deal with it.

"We presented a proposal that the two sides might agree on the importance of combating violence and terrorism. The other side rejected it because they are involved in the issue of terrorism," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said.

Damascus uses the word "terrorist" to describe all rebel fighters; Western countries have declared some Islamist groups among the rebels, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to be terrorists but consider others to be legitimate fighters in the civil war.

Opposition delegates said the declaration proposed by Damascus ignored foreign fighters from Iran, Iraq and Lebanese Hezbollah supporting the Assad government.

"The regime today provided a one-sided communiqué. It wants to confuse ISIL with the people of Syria who took up arms and defended their families," opposition spokesman Louay al-Safi said.

Direct talks between both sides have been minimal and tense through the entire period since January 24. The government delegation threatened to go home at one point, in reaction to the opposition delegation making it clear it would not meet with the Syrian government unless they agreed to focus negotiations on replacing Assad and his regime.

This demand is outlined in a 2012 statement, known as Geneva 1, by world powers endorsed by the UN Security Council calling for a transitional government in Syria, which the Syrian government has rejected to sign. The communique’ describes key steps and process to end the violence, establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers and made up by members of the present Government and the opposition and other groups.

At the time of Geneva I, the United States had its interests directly tied to the discovery of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime, but with the delay in official confirmation of reports such weapons were actually being used on civilians and war crimes were being committed by the Assad regime, the Obama administration took its foot off the gas pedal and left Syria to simmer in conflict while other foreign fighters such as Iran, Iraq, and Hezbollah gained control, enforcing a stronghold in the “arc” of Shia influence in the region.

Assad offered to render his control by agreeing to give up his poison gas stocks, which has fallen behind schedule.

"The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons precursor materials on time with the schedule that was agreed to," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday.

Iran, Assad’s main supporter in the region is not in attendance at the Geneva talks. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited Tehran at the last minute, but then withdrew the invitation 24 hours later when it refused to endorse the Geneva I protocol. The Syrian opposition stated earlier that they refused to attend and be in the same presence of Iran in Geneva based on Iranian supported ground fighters that have entered into Syria since the start of the war to fight against the Syrian people seeking freedom from the Assad regime.

On Friday Iran called for an end to foreign interference in Syria. Iran has been linked to Lebanese Hezbollah militia who have fought with Assad against opposition forces in Syria.

"I can ask all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria, to allow the Syrian people to decide their own future. To stop funneling money and arms into Syria," Iran ‘s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“We were not invited, but we hope that Geneva can produce results, because we are in the region and we will be affected by any disaster coming out of Geneva,” Zarif said.

Brahimi also focused his aim during talks to discuss ceasefires, prisoner releases and access for international aid deliveries.

The UN Human Rights Council has outlined in an open letter to those at Geneva II calling attention to the need of protection for the “right to life of civilians”.

“Multiple and consistent reports, including by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, document human rights violations against civilians. There are many reliable reports of massacres and other unlawful killing, arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention, hostage taking and enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, the summary, arbitrary and extra-judicial executions, and violation of children’s rights, as well as incitement to these crimes and to sectarian hatred.”

This comes in the wake of reports and images released of prisoners of the Syrian government being exposed to extreme torture through starvation and physical abuse and murder.

As of date, the United Nations estimates over 130,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict. An additional 2.4 million refugees have fled Syria to neighboring countries while 6.5 million people, 30 percent of the population, remain in Syria as internally displaced persons.

Brahimi, said “tomorrow morning will be our last session. I hope that we will try…to draw some lessons about what we did and see if we can organize ourselves better for the next session.”