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Middle East

UN tries to re-boot Syria talks

media Amnesty International has released a report which found that civilians in Aleppo are suffering “unthinkable atrocities” Reuters/Mahmoud Hebbo

The UN's peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has announced the start of new consultations in Geneva with regional and domestic players. He hopes the initiative can revive the stalled dialogue on the conflict. The announcement in Geneva Tuesday coincided with a damning report by human rights organisation Amnesty International about the destruction of the city of Aleppo.
 

The Geneva talks include some 40 groups, including political and military actors, women, civilians, victims and members of the Syrian diaspora.

Participants also include international players, such as Iran.

If successful, the talks may result in a “Geneva III” process, a reference to the Geneva I conference on Syria in 2012 and the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference last year that was led by the UN peace envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

The main principles set in the final statement from Geneva I included an end to all violence and a “Syrian-led transition”. Neither objective was reached.

Still, Syrian cabinet minister Bishr Riyad Yazigi thinks the talks are “a good thing”, but refrains from further comment.

Others are less confident.

“I do not think that there is any chance that these talks will actually lead to success and to a solution for the conflict," says Professor Gunter Meyer, director of the Center for Research into the Arabic World at the University of Mainz.

He thinks that the opposition has significantly increased its strength, helped by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

“For the first time, these groups that in the past have been fighting against each other, they are now united in order to fight against the government,” he said.

Meanwhile, the position of Assad seems to be gradually weakening, though Meyer believes he will not give in to any demands that he step down. Earlier reports that Damascus gave orders to the Alawi population to evacuate to the coastal city of Latakia were denied as rumours and opposition propaganda, but they may as well be the writing on the wall that convince Assad never to relinquish power, according to Meyer.

“He is not prepared to do so, because he is well aware that this will mean that the power is taken over by the hard-core Islamists, and it will open also the door to a further expansion of the Islamic State armed group,” he said.

Meyer thinks this may result in possible massacres of the Alawi and Christian populations and other religious minorities.

Amnesty International released a report which found that civilians in Aleppo are suffering “unthinkable atrocities,” and it says that Damascus makes extensive use of barrel bombs, causing the death of more than 3,000 people since last year.

Syrian human rights organisations confirm the findings of the Amnesty report.

“The Syrian regime has committed a number of crimes against humanity, by dropping the exploding barrels and by targeting civilian areas and killing civilians,” according to Walid Saffour, chairman of the Syrian Human Rights Committee.

“Every day some neighbourhoods are being bombed and schools are targeted. People fear for the lives of their children, after schools were targeted. People don’t live in their houses anymore as they are being targeted by barrel bombs.”

Civilians in other cities suffer as much as those in Aleppo, says Saffour.

“The Syrian regime attacks places that are run by the Syrian opposition and try to make it an example to the others," he said. "In the past Homs was destroyed, and more than 2 million people were deported from that city.”

The Amnesty report coincides with the opening of the Geneva gathering, but it may not have much influence, says Meyer.

“Of course it is a blow against the government. Using the barrel bombs paints a very negative picture," he said. "But the regime is losing at the moment, and it may affect world opinion, but I don’t think it will affect the situation on the ground.”

UN's peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said that the talks are scheduled to last six weeks.

The Islamic State group and Al-Nusra Front were not invited to take part in the discussions.

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