Russia seeks UN backing for Syria truce

2016-12-31 19:49
A Syrian child evacuated from Aleppo during the ceasefire arrives at a refugee camp in Rashidin. (AP Photo)

A Syrian child evacuated from Aleppo during the ceasefire arrives at a refugee camp in Rashidin. (AP Photo)

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Beirut - A ceasefire held across most of Syria for the second day on Saturday despite sporadic clashes near Damascus as Russia pushed for a UN resolution on the truce it brokered.

Moscow says it wants the United Nations to be involved in peace talks between Damascus and rebels in Kazakhstan in January, although the UN is negotiating separately for an to end the war.

Rebel supporter Turkey and key regime ally Russia, which brokered the ceasefire, say the talks in the Kazakh capital Astana aim to supplement UN-backed peace efforts, rather than replace them.

They want to involve regional players like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan.

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin voiced hope the Security Council would vote Saturday on the draft resolution - which also endorses the planned talks in Kazakhstan - "and adopt it unanimously".

Diplomats, however, said they did not see how a quick UN weekend vote could occur as the resolution needed to be "seriously studied" and hinted Russia might be hard-pressed to muster the nine votes needed for it to pass.

Washington is conspicuously absent from the new process, but Moscow has said it hoped to bring US president-elect Donald Trump's administration on board once he takes office in January.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor of the war, said that most of the country remained calm on Saturday.

But limited clashes continued in some areas including Wadi Barada near Damascus, which was also hit by 10 regime air strikes, and the southern city of Daraa where one opposition fighter was killed.

The fighting in Wadi Barada has led to water shortages that have affected four million people in the capital, with the two sides trading blame.

Five rebel fighters and two civilians were killed in Wadi Barada and the rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus since the truce started on Friday, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The Observatory said a total of 60 000 people were killed in violence across Syria in 2016, more than 13 000 of them civilians.

The forces in Wadi Barada include former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, previously known as Al-Nusra Front, which Syria's government says is excluded from the ceasefire.

'Real opportunity'

The Syrian government said the ceasefire deal is a "real opportunity" to find a political solution to the war.

More than 310 000 people have been killed and millions have been forced to flee since Syria's conflict began in March 2011 with protests against the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Despite being left out of the process, Washington described the truce as "positive".

Analysts were cautious, but said the involvement of Russia, Iran and Turkey could be important.

Sam Heller, fellow at The Century Foundation, said there was "real interest and urgency" from Moscow and Ankara, but expressed doubts about whether Syria and its ally Iran, which also welcomed the truce, were on board.

"All indications are that Iran and the regime want to continue towards a military conclusion," he said.

Talks in Astana 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would reduce Moscow's military contingent in Syria, which has been fighting to bolster the government since last year.

But he added Russia would continue to fight "terrorism" and maintain its support for Assad's government.

Despite backing opposite sides in the conflict, Turkey and Russia have worked increasingly closely on Syria, brokering a deal this month to allow the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians and rebel fighters from Aleppo.

Their ceasefire deal calls for negotiations over a political solution to end the conflict.

UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura has said he hoped the agreement would "pave the way for productive talks", but also reiterated he wants negotiations mediated by his office to continue next year.

In an interview published on Saturday, De Mistura said a UN resolution that foresees a political transition in Syria was still on the table, although the focus had shifted following territorial gains by the regime.

"We now have before us another scenario: a negotiation between the Assad regime and the rebels," he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

The Security Council held closed-door consultations on the Russian-proposed resolution early on Friday and Moscow later amended the draft at the request of several member states.

The latest version of the resolution, a copy of which was seen by AFP, includes a reference to the talks being led by de Mistura.

Read more on:    turkey  |  russia  |  syria  |  syria conflict

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