…Lavrov told Bloomberg that Russia wants to understand if their partners in America and the United Nations are really consistent with the idea of the Geneva 2 conference on Syria as their actions keep sending the wrong message to the country’s opposition…
“The message the opposition is getting: ‘Guys, don’t go to Geneva. Don’t say that you are going to negotiate with the regime. Soon things will change in your favor.’ So, that’s what we want to clarify. It’s either the conference or the instigation of the opposition not to be flexible. I don’t think it’s possible to do both at the same time”
The Foreign Minister reminded that Russia has been pushing for the peace solution “irrespective of the situation on the ground,” while the West started speaking of a conference only after Assad’s forces began advancing on the rebels.
“They weren’t ready to discuss it when many people believed that the opposition would take Damascus in recent weeks. If now they’ll be moving in the direction of what some opposition leaders are saying – namely, let’s first restore military balance on the ground and then we’ll go the conference. This’ll be a disaster for all diplomatic efforts because this would never end.”
The first problem is the representation of the rebels at the talks as “not each and every important opposition group wants to go under the umbrella of the [Syrian National] Coalition because” because it’s “taking quite radical positions” and doesn’t have any vision for the country’s future.
The FM also said that “the most effective military group fighting the regime in Syria”, the Jabhat al-Nusra, isn’t going to be invited to the talks at all.
“It’s not for them to decide whether they’ll come to the conference or not. They can’t be even considered. They are terrorists and they must be treated as terrorists.”
The second problem with the invitees’ list is the participation of foreign states in the Geneva 2 conference.
“We’re absolutely convinced that all Arab neighbors of Syria must be invited. And Iran must be there that’s something, which I believe is absolutely unavoidable if we want the process, which is inclusive, and if we want all important outside players to be there to push the Syrians to an agreement. And so far there are doubts on the part of the US regarding the invitation of Iran and, I believe, this is delaying.”
The Russian FM once again warned the US against arming the rebels, but said that weapons are “anyway” coming to Syria…
White House officials refused to comment Friday on a Los Angeles Times report that CIA operatives and U.S. special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons since late last year, saying only that the U.S. had increased its assistance to the rebellion.
The covert U.S. training at bases in Jordan and Turkey began months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming the opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to U.S. officials and rebel commanders.
“We have stepped up our assistance, but I cannot inventory for you all the elements of that assistance,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “We have provided and will continue to provide substantial assistance to the Syrian opposition, as well as the Supreme Military Council.”
The Supreme Military Council is the military arm of an umbrella group that represents more moderate rebel factions, including the Free Syrian Army.
The training and Obama’s decision this month to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels have raised hope among the beleaguered opposition that Washington ultimately will provide heavier weapons as well. So far, the rebels say they lack the weapons they need to regain the offensive in Syria’s bitter civil war…
…The “Friends of Syria” group of countries that support the rebels was expected to announce in Doha on Saturday that it would arm the opposition, FSA media and political co-ordinator spokesman Louay Muqdad said.
“We’ve received quantities of new types of weapons, including some that we asked for and that we believe will change the course of the battle on the ground.
“We have begun distributing them on the front lines, they will be in the hands of professional officers and FSA fighters,” he said.
He did not specify what weapons had been received or when they had arrived, but added that a new shipment was expected in the coming days and recalled that the rebels had asked for “deterrent weapons.”
“That means anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank weapons, as well as ammunition,” he said.
Senior opposition figure Burhan Ghalioun confirmed that the FSA had recently received “sophisticated weapons” including “an anti-aircraft defence system.”
Another opposition source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the system was “Russian-made” but declined to say which country had supplied it.
The apparent influx of arms comes after the United States said it would provide rebel forces with “military support,” although it has declined to outline what that might entail.
“The weapons will be used for one objective, which is to fight the regime of (President) Bashar Al Assad,” Muqdad insisted.
“They will be collected after the fall of the regime, we have made this committment to the friends and brotherly countries” that supplied the arms,” he said…
*snort* Are you kidding…? When they can’t even dole out the ‘humanitarian aid‘ in a timely fashion…
…Here, American diplomatic pressure will be crucial. To empower Idriss, the United States may expand its current training and nonlethal assistance to include supplying weapons — even as its real hopes remain with a negotiated peace deal backed by Russia.
For Russia, the Syrian endgame offers a test of President Vladimir Putin’s sincerity and his clout. He regally left the details to Lavrov Tuesday, after keeping Kerry waiting three hours.
This lèse-majesté may impress Russians, but it won’t get the job done on Syria. If Putin has finally come to understand that Russia would potentially suffer most from the dissolution of the 1916 Sykes-Picot boundaries in the Middle East, then he will have to put his personal political energy behind the deal, rather than making a handoff to Lavrov.
The extremists also get a vote in this process, unfortunately. Hard-liners within Assad’s camp could step up their use of chemical weapons, hoping to set off a regional bonfire. Sunni jihadists could slaughter Alawites, in revenge for past attacks but also to torpedo a peace deal. Hezbollah and Iran could decide that their interests would be so harmed by Assad’s removal that they would rather torch Syria and take their chances. And Israel could continue its recent attacks, drawing Arab reprisals.
There are many ways this peace initiative could fail, but at least it has begun.
“The Secretary-General calls on all sides to exercise maximum calm and restraint, and to act with a sense of responsibility to prevent an escalation of what is already a devastating and highly dangerous conflict,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in the statement.
“The Secretary-General urges respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region, and adherence to all relevant Security Council resolutions,” he continued…
…Top UN officials, including Mr. Ban and his political chief, Jeffrey Feltman, have said on numerous occasions that a political solution is the only answer for long-term in the country and the region…
China calls for all relevant parties in Syria to launch political dialogue and carry out political transition as soon as possible, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday.
In response to a media request for China’s take on the current situation in Syria at a regular press briefing, Hua said that China pays close attention to the development of the situation and believes a political solution is the only correct way for solving Syrian crisis.
She said China also calls for all relevant sides to earnestly respect Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity, remain restrained, avoid any actions that might escalate the tension and play a responsible and constructive role in solving Syrian issue through political means.
…An EU spokesman said on Wednesday that the bloc was “very satisfied” with the joint call by the United States and Russia for an international conference on Syria to end the country’s escalating crisis.
“The EU would welcome any dialogue that would bring two sides to the negotiating table. The EU has repeated on many occasions that the solution of the conflict lies in a comprehensive political settlement,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The EU “stands ready to assist in any way possible and hopes that the conference will be a beginning of a peace process,” he said in an email to Xinhua.
Following hours of talks with Russian officials, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the two had agreed to convene an international conference on Syria that would be attended by representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition…
…The U.S. secretary of state sought Russian help in ending Syria’s civil war on Tuesday, telling President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that common interest in a stable Middle East could bridge divisions among the big powers.
Putin, however, kept John Kerry waiting three hours before their meeting at the Kremlin, fiddled with a pen while his guest spoke and made no mention in his own public remarks of the conflict in Syria, which has generated some of the frostiest exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the Cold War…
…The White House said in a short statement that Obama and Netanyahu, who is visiting China, spoke by telephone, and discussed “regional security issues and Middle East peace.”
U.S. officials have declined to comment in detail on air strikes by Israel on targets near Damascus on Friday and Sunday which Israeli sources said destroyed Iranian missiles apparently destined for the Hezbollah militia.
But Obama said on Saturday after the first set of Israeli raids that the Jewish state was justified in seeking to “guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.”…
…Saudi Arabia on Monday called for UN action to end Israeli strikes on Syria, describing the raids as a “dangerous violation” of the sovereignty of an Arab state, the official SPA news agency reported.
The Saudi cabinet voiced “deep concern from the worsening situation in Syria” and urged “swift action by the UN Security Council to stop these Israeli attacks on Syrian territories and ensure they are not repeated,” said SPA.
…its government on Monday described Israel’s raids as “flagrant attacks and a dangerous violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state, warning of its dangerous effects in the region’s security and stability.”
Egypt condemned the raids as a “violation” of international law, Britain warned of “increasing danger” to the Middle East, while the Syrian regime’s main regional ally Iran said it would shorten the existence of the Jewish state.
The National Coalition, the war-torn country’s umbrella opposition group, also condemned the attack while accusing Assad’s regime of complicity by weakening the army in its battle with Syria’s people.
Russia said the raids threatened to escalate tensions in neighbouring countries.
“We are looking into and analysing all the circumstances surrounding the especially concerning reports of the May 3 and May 5 Israeli air strikes,” the foreign ministry said in a statement…
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called Monday for “a political solution” to the conflict in Syria.
“The situation in Syria is a real tragedy,” Fabius told a press conference in Hong Kong, adding that if it continued, it could be a “human and political disaster.” …“Obviously it’s something that one can understand, but at the same time, it’s a risk,” he said of the raids.
…Negative diplomatic ricochets are pursuing Israel in the aftermath of its air force attacks on Syria. In the first place, they are seen to have had no effect on Hizballah’s successful military intervention on the side of the Assad regime or the Syrian war at large. In the second, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while in Shanghai, was given a sharp dressing-down by President Vladimir Putin Monday, May 6, a warning that Russia would not tolerate further Israeli attacks on Damascus and would respond.…
…Intelligence agencies in Moscow and the Middle East take it for granted that by the time Washington goes public on this decision, some of the Syrian rebel factions will already be armed with American weapons.
…US military instructors have been working with Syrian rebels at training camps in Jordan and Turkey for some months. So putting the arms in their hands only awaited a decision in Washington.
…Putin’s message to Netanyahu was intended to reach a wider audience than Jerusalem, such as Barack Obama in Washington and President Xi Jinping in Beijing ahead of Netanyahu’s talks there Tuesday… …when US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Moscow that day, in an attempt “bridge the divide” between their governments on the Syria conflict, he was preceded by a barrage of Russian condemnation of the Israeli air strikes in Damascus “as a threat to regional stability,” a stiff warning from the Russian foreign ministry to the “West” to stop “politicizing the issue of chemical weapons in Syria,” and Moscow’s “concern that world public opinion was being prepared for possible foreign military intervention.”
…The Chinese government’s cold shoulder to Israel was exhibited less directly than Moscow’s but no less firmly. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was invited to visit Beijing and meet President Xi two days before the prime minister arrived in the Chinese capital Tuesday to begin the official part of his visit. The Chinese president unveiled his peace plan before meeting the Israeli prime minister…
…The commander – a moderate Sunni and an influential rebel leader from Damascus who said he has met intelligence operatives from Western and Arab states – said the US officials were especially keen to obtain information about the identities of Al Nusra insurgents and the locations of their bases.
Then, by to the rebel commander’s account, the discussion took an unexpected turn.
The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents.
“The US intelligence officer said, ‘We can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra’,” the rebel commander recalled.
Opposition forces should be uniting against Mr Al Assad’s more powerful and better-equipped army, not waging war among themselves, the rebel commander replied. The response from a senior US intelligence officer was blunt.
“I’m not going to lie to you. We’d prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad’s army. You should kill these Nusra people. We’ll do it if you don’t,” the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying.
What the commander says transpired in Jordan illustrates a dilemma that has preoccupied, even paralysed, Syria’s opposition and their international supporters – how to deal with the expanding role of Islamic extremists in the anti-Assad insurgency.
Other meetings with Western and Arab intelligence services have shown a similar obsession with Al Nusra, the commander said.
“All anyone wants is hard information about Al Nusra, it seems to be all they are really interested in. It’s the most valuable commodity you can have when dealing with these intelligence agencies,” he said…
The reality is that opposition militias and the official army have reached a military stalemate – one step forward and one step back as progress on one front is checked by loss and retreat on another…
…In the midst of this harsh war, Syrians have found themselves at a crossroads: obliged to choose between either their personal interest and life or the country’s freedom. A question occurs to me here – Is it possible for fighters who quit the FSA to go back to their old lives? It seems highly improbable, given that Syria has been ripped into so many different pieces with different authorities holding sway over particular areas – here the regime, there such and such battalion.
The country is now a hotch-potch of hot and cool areas. Families have been displaced across the country in their millions. Most fighters are wanted by intelligence forces and they can’t go back to their original villages and towns, nor can they meet their families who were forced to flee. This is how our lives – and not just that of FSA fighters – have been trapped, in the eye of a tornado that is hurtling at breakneck speed. Where and how we get off is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure – it won’t be an emerald city.
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