World Bulletin / News Desk
With a final settlement apparently far from reach at the Geneva II peace talks, the true value of the ongoing Syria peace talks may lie in their ability to focus attention on Syria’s unraveling humanitarian crisis.
“To the extent that Geneva focuses the world on what’s going on in Syria, there may be an opportunity to mitigate some of the humanitarian catastrophe,” said US Ambassador, Fred Hof, Washington’s former point man on Syria, while speaking at a conference hosted by Washington’s Atlantic Council think-tank on Monday.
Both the Syrian government and the Syrian National Coalition are entrenched in long-standing positions at Geneva II, making it unlikely that the two sides will agree on a transitional government to lift Syria out of civil war.
More than 100,000 people have been killed and around 9 million people have been displaced, after three years of Syria's civil war, according to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
"Such violence is likely to continue unabated", said Joshua Landis, Director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center of Middle East Studies.
“Next year at this time I think we’re still going to be in the midst of this terrible fighting. I don’t think either side will have made much territorial gains. There will be more refugees of course, and more killing,” he said.
With a political solution to the violence a far-flung fantasy, the focus of international actors, and the parties themselves, has shifted to addressing Syria’s humanitarian crisis.
Sections of the country, including Homs and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, continue to live through the reality of food scarcity and the threat of starvation.
Christopher McGrath, Washington representative of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), described the situation in Yarmouk as “pretty desperate”, speaking exclusively to AA.
Of the camp’s pre-conflict population of 160,000, 18,000 remain – living under dire conditions. “There’s quite a bit of food shortage. There are a lot of reports of malnutrition; the press are reporting starvation, some people are succumbing to that starvation,” said McGrath.
Beyond Yarmouk, the Syrian government has maintained a blockade of the flashpoint city of Homs. Located in central Syria, the city has been highly contested by the government and rebels. Asad’s forces retook outlying areas around the city last year, and have laid siege to the rebel-held city with thousands of civilians still inside.
Hope for those civilians grew over the weekend as reports alleged that Syria's government and the Syrian National Coalition had drawn close to an agreement to deliver aid to the city, and evacuate women and children from the Old City of Homs. Evacuation plans stalled over the government’s security concerns, said UN Special Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva on Monday. There is no decision in place to deliver aid yet.
Speaking with the press at the State Department on Monday, Spokesperson, Jen Psaki called on the Syrian government to immediately allow aid in to the besieged city.
“The Syrian regime must approve the convoys to deliver badly needed humanitarian assistance into the Old City of Homs now. The situation is desperate, and the people are starving,” said Psaki.
“What the regime has proposed, an evacuation of women and children from the Old City, is not sufficient; civilians must be allowed to come and go freely,” she added.
The conflict’s international players, including the U.S., will need to engage with one another if Syria’s situation is to be improved.
“The Turks, Saudis and Iranians need to be speaking to one another. The United States needs to be in the middle of the mix engaging Iran and Russia in particular,” said Hof. He added that it is vital for Washington to engage seriously with Tehran on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict.
Iran has long backed the Assad government, supporting it with troops and arms; such aid could provide the Iranian government with leverage over Damascus to open the country to humanitarian aid.
For McGrath, it is imperative that such actions are taken, not just in Washington and Tehran, but across the wider international community.
“We’re hoping that the international community will come together and use all of their leverage with all of the various actors who are involved in the situation to open the access points to humanitarian actors, not only in Yarmouk, but also in other civilian areas throughout the country,” he said.
Talks in Geneva are set to continue until Friday.
SNC: Children and women face security check on Homs exit
Syrian National Coalition (SNC) member, Murhaf Jouejati, said that women and children leaving Homs will be subjected to inspection by security forces, under the suspicion of terrorism.
"The Assad regime does not allow aid in and is not breaking off the siege we asked for," Jouejati said during the fifth day of the Geneva II peace talks on Tuesday.
Jouejati added: "Obviously, we want the siege to be broken. We want the decision for those inside the besieged old town of Homs to take the decision themselves whether to stay or leave."
Regarding the delay for letting humanitarian aid into Homs, Jouejati said that the trucks and convoy are ready to be distributed.
"There is absolutely no problem with logistics. The decision is a political decision that came from the government of Syria."
World Food Program spokeswoman, Elisabeth Byrs, said that the United Nations will send in a convoy once it receives the go-ahead; the agency has been unable to get supplies into the Old City of Homs for over a year.
UN: No breakthrough in Geneva II so far
The ongoing Geneva II peace talks have not achieved a breakthrough so far, UN mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi said on Tuesday.
"We have not achieved any breakthrough, but we are still at it," Brahimi said. "Nobody is walking out, nobody is running away. This is good enough as far as I'm concerned."
Asked why the afternoon session of the Tuesday talks was cancelled, Brahimi responded: "It's my own decision taken without any pressure from any of the two parties."
He added that both delegations would continue negotiations until Friday.
With regards to the stance of the U.S. and Russia on the conference, Brahimi said: "Both countries worked with us in the context of trilateral talks between U.N., U.S. and Russia. I believe they are serious and they want this track to be successful. There is no doubt to that."
Responding to a question whether the presence of Iran could help, Brahimi said: "I believe we will try to speak and cooperate with Iran in the future, so that Iran can play its role."
Brahimi also announced that an aid convoy to the besieged Syrian city of Homs was on standby awaiting authorization from the Syrian government.
"Areas under siege must get food and medication, that's humanitarian law," he added.
Brahimi is the chief mediator between the Syria regime and the Syria National Coalition (SNC) opposition, who are trying to negotiate a political solution to the longstanding conflict in Syria.
More than 100,000 people have been killed and around 9 million people have been displaced, after three years of Syria's civil war, according to the latest figures from UNHCR.
Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq are hosting over two million people fleeing the fighting.
The international peace conference between the Syria regime and the Syria National Coalition is presently being held in Geneva, Switzerland, to try and find a political solution to end the conflict.Last Mod: 29 Ocak 2014, 17:24