UN Official Arrives in Syria with Truce Plans
A senior UN official arrived in Syria on Saturday for talks on a plan to suspend fighting between government and rebel forces in the country’s second city Aleppo.
Ramzi Ezzedine Ramzi, deputy to the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is to hold a series of meetings in Damascus, their spokeswoman Juliette Touma told AFP via the Internet.
At the start of the week, De Mistura held what Touma termed “constructive” talks on Aleppo with rebel groups in Gaziantep, Turkey.
In late October, he had announced a plan for a “freeze” in fighting, following a series of failed international efforts to negotiate an end to the Syrian conflict, which erupted in March 2011. He has since said the northern city of Aleppo is a “good candidate” for the bid.
The city has been divided between Syrian army control in the west and rebels in the east since mid-2012.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has called for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons and allow the return of local administration officials to Aleppo under any deal.
For their part, the rebels want guarantees of an effective freeze on the ground and that government forces are not redeployed from Aleppo to the flashpoint Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus.
Meanwhile a Russian initiative to launch a “political solution” for the Syrian crisis has prompted leading millitant opposition figures to deny their involvement in any talks with the Syrian government.
Sources familiar with the Russian initiative say that it aims to gather government and opposition figures in Moscow for a round of talks, possibly to be followed up in Damascus.
The initiative, the sources said, would see Assad remain in power with his influence limited to the Defence Ministry and intelligence agencies, Gulf News claimed.
Gen. Manaf Tlas was being mentioned as a possible defence minister in a transitional government, but his close aide dismissed the idea because it is known that Bashar Assad wants to remain in power and raises it as a precondition to talks.
Zahran Alloush, the leader of the so-called “Islam Army” militia, which has a presence in the countryside around Damascus, also denied any plan to talk with the government although news suggested that Zahran Alloush, who heads the so-called “Jaysh al-Islam” group, suggested reaching a political solution with President Bashar al-Assad’s government to form a joint attack aqanst ISIS.
Some observers and anti-government activists believe the Russian initiative has little chance of success and label it an exercise in “buying time,” with the US uninterested in pushing the conflict toward a resolution.
Observers also question whether Turkey, a backer of rebel groups, will endorse a solution that doesn’t guarantee its demands.