UN-hosted Feb 8 Geneva talks on Syria postponed

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (C) meets with representatives of Syria’s political opposition in Moscow on January 27, 2017. (AFP)

UN-hosted negotiations on the Syrian conflict planned for February 8 in Geneva have been postponed until the end of that month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday. “The date of February 8 has been put back until the end of next month,” Lavrov told a meeting with minor Syrian opposition representatives in Moscow to discuss peace talks in Kazakhstan that ended on Tuesday without a major breakthrough.

There was no confirmation from the United Nations on the latest plans for the next round of talks between the Syrian regime and opposition. The main opposition groups stayed away from the Moscow meeting with Lavrov, as the Kremlin seeks to impose its influence as the key powerbroker in Syria on the back of its game-changing military support for leader Bashar al-Assad.

Opposition turns down invitation

It was earlier reported that Syria’s main opposition leaders on Thursday turned down an invitation from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in Moscow. High Negotiations Committee spokesman Riyad Naasan said that HNC coordinator Riyad Hijab had “received a personal invitation” to attend Friday’s talks “but declined”. But “no invitation has yet been sent to the High Negotiations Committee”, he added.

The HNC is the main Syrian opposition umbrella group and has taken part in peace talks brokered by Syria regime allies Russia and Iran and rebel backer Turkey in the Kazakh capital, Astana, this week.

The Turkey-based opposition National Coalition also declined to meet with Lavrov, said spokesman Ahmad Ramadan. He said invitations were sent to the current and past heads of the National Coalition and to the deputy of the sitting chief.

On Wednesday Lavrov told Russian lawmakers that he had invited “all the opposition representatives from the political opposition that wish to come to Moscow” for talks on Friday. He said “we will brief them about what happened in Astana”.

The peace talks in the Kazakh capital ended on Tuesday without a major breakthrough. Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed in Astana to establish a joint “mechanism” to shore up a shaky three-week truce in Syria, but offered few concrete details on how it would work.

‘Blocking help to neediest’

The UN humanitarian chief accused the Syrian government on Thursday of blocking aid to hundreds of thousands of the country’s neediest people despite a nationwide cease-fire.

Undersecretary-General Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council that a two-step approval process that the government agreed to for humanitarian convoys to cross conflict lines to get to besieged and hard to reach areas “has become, in practice, a 10-step process.”

Despite the Dec. 30 cease-fire and a humanitarian task force whose sole purpose is to ensure access, he said, “we continue to be blocked at every turn, by lack of approvals at central and local levels, disagreements on access routes, and violation of agreed procedures at checkpoints by parties to the conflict.”

O’Brien said the result is that only one convoy delivered aid to 6,000 people in December, when the UN asked for approval to help 930,250 people – and he criticized the removal of over 23,000 medical items from the trucks that did get through. So far in January, he said, the situation isn’t much better with just a single convoy reaching 40,000 people.

O’Brien said the Syrian government did respond to the UN’s monthly convoy plans within the agreed seven working days. “But subsequent administrative delays on the part of the government, including in the approval of facilitation letters, approval by local governors and security committees, as well as broader restrictions by all parties continue to hamper our efforts,” he said.

(With inputs from the Associated Press)

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50
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