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Syria talks: Main opposition has no influence over the situation



Damascus has made impressive progress towards the complete elimination of its chemical arsenals. Work is proceeding at a fast pace and ahead of schedule, though the situation in Syria is far from peaceful. Children are being targeted by snipers in the streets of Syrian cities and the Free Syrian Army is rejecting a ceasefire. All hopes are now being pinned on the Geneva-2 international conference scheduled for late January.

This week, Syria informed the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that it had scrapped all of its empty chemical warheads two months ahead of the appointed deadline of January 31. Destruction of the shells stuffed with toxic agents will begin in the middle of December and continue through the middle of March. The most lethal components will be eliminated at an offshore US facility.

Meanwhile, shootings and bombings inside the country continue unabated. On November 28, the Russian embassy in Damascus came under a mortar attack that left one Syrian killed and nine others wounded. There were no casualties among the embassy staff. The UN Security Council strongly condemned the attack, describing it as an act of terrorism, and demanded that all those responsible be held accountable. It warned that attacks on diplomatic missions protected by international law were inadmissible.

The ongoing civil war prompted many countries, including France, the Netherlands and some Arab states, to shut their embassies and consulates in Syria. The government has been doing all in its power to protect diplomats and civilians but with groups of militants still active in the suburbs of Damascus, no one can guarantee 100-percent safety.

“The suburbs should be cleared of the militants. But such cleansings might put civilians at risk because militants are hiding behind people’s backs. So the government changed tactics, resorting to ambush and other maneuvers to avoid civilian casualties. It’s very important, especially in the context of chemical disarmament so as not to give the militants a chance to accuse the government of killing civilians,” Sergei Sereyogichev, a research fellow at the Institute of Middle Studies in Moscow, told the Voice of Russia.

The attack against the Russian embassy had apparently meant to intimidate the embassy staff and send a signal to Russia that the peaceful solution it advocates does not suit the anti-Assad rebels.

Earlier, the Oxford Research Group published shocking figures – the conflict in Syria has claimed the lives of 11,000 children. Most of them were killed by shell fire or bombings, but hundreds were shot dead by snipers or tortured to death.

A short while ago, the West was considering military intervention in Syria. It knew there would be civilian death toll but accepted it as unavoidable, said Oleg Fomin, Co-Chairman of the Russian Committee for Solidarity with the People of Libya and Syria.

“When the Americans were firing ‘tomahawks’ at Libya or bombing Baghdad, didn’t it occur to them that they were killing children? Or when unmanned soulless drones attack a crowd of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan, what do they care. Drones don’t distinguish between children and adults,” he said.

Only peace can save the lives of little Syrians – not a victory of one force over the other, but the mutual desire of both to lay down arms and sit down to negotiate.

The late January Geneva-2 conference will hopefully become an important milestone towards ending the civil war. But some analysts are skeptical about a breakthrough. Semyon Bagdasarov of the Institute for Middle East Problems notes that some opposition groups are determined to fight on.

“The main opposition – the so-called Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – has virtually no influence over the situation. The tone is being set by several militant groups, one of them being the Free Syrian Army which appears to be falling apart. Though it may still be calling itself a military wing of the coalition, its commanders are reproaching coalition leaders for residing in luxury hotels in Turkey while rank-and-file fighters are spilling their blood,” he said.

Some opposition groups have conditioned their Geneva-2 attendance by President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation – a demand that makes negotiations pointless. How to deal with those groups? Some analysts suggest branding them as terrorist organizations and handling them accordingly.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who will head the government delegation at the talks, said that for Geneva l-2 to achieve success there must be an end to financial and military aid to the opposition.

By: Grigory Milenin | December 01, 2013  | Source: Voice of Russia