Terrorist groups – Daesh and al-Qaida – continue to menace the Syrian people and the Syrian regime and opposition parties are on the brink of going back to a state of all-out war. – US Secretary of State John Kerry
Geneva: Syrian warplanes targeted a funeral on Saturday morning in East Aleppo, killing many civilians who were mourning the deaths of at least a dozen people killed in barrel bombing earlier on Thursday. This was within hours after the US Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to the international media about the Syrian crisis by pointing out that terrorist groups – Daesh and al-Qaida – continue to menace the Syrian people and the Syrian regime and opposition parties are on the brink of going back to a state of all-out war.
Kerry along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was addressing media-persons in Geneva on Friday, 26 August, 2016. Presenting the ground picture, he told journalists that Aleppo continues to be besieged and bombarded by the Assad regime and its allies, including Iran, Russia, and Hizballah. And the regime had that very day forced the surrender of Daraya after a brutal four years of the siege and continues to take territory in the Damascus suburbs. This, he said, ran counter to two iterations of a previously announced cessation of hostilities. To discuss this, Kerry said, he was in Geneva to meet his Russian counterpart.
All those who possess the special operation forces and other divisions of armed forces on the ground in Syria will have to realize that priorities need to be set, and choosing among those priorities I am confident no one will be able to turn a blind eye to the problem of terrorists, ISIL, and Jabhat al-Nusrah. – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Kery touched the emotional chord by drawing attention to the photograph of two young boys from Aleppo, one of whom died in the ambulance and how the entire world has been shaken by this image. It should motivate all of us to get the job done, to provide for a real ceasefire, and to meet the needs of the Syrian people, Kerry went on to observe.
The situation, Kerry stated, has dramatically deteriorated since the brief oasis of calm that followed the launch of the cessation of hostilities in February this year. Expressing satisfaction, Kerry said that Sergey Lavrov and he were able to work together with other colleagues in the international community through the International Syria Support Group and were able to cobble together the concept of the cessation of hostilities.
Kerry said: “Well into March of this year, Syrians had benefited from a degree of calm they had not experienced in years. For a period of time, the cessation of hostilities held. And the cessation – even flawed – became something of real value to them. For a brief moment, a brief instant, life changed in some communities. People sat in cafes. People went out and began to try to resume life again, but that was lost. And it was lost because of the lack of accountability and the inability to be able to deal with violations.
So as much as we have all seen a benefit to the humanitarian assistance that was delivered – some communities that hadn’t seen humanitarian assistance in years got it. More than a million people were able to be served with humanitarian assistance. And the cessation – even flawed – was valuable.”
Giving a narrative of what has been unfolding, Kerry said hat violations eventually became the norm rather than the exception. And the regime continually pressed its military objectives in key strategic locations, and continued indiscriminate aerial bombardment of densely populated areas with barrel bombs, and as the UN report points out, also chlorine.
Sergey Lavrov from Russia may dispute his narrative, Kerry said adding, he just laid out and attribute most of the regime actions to Nusrah. Obviously, there is illegitimate Nusrah activity and we are all opposed to that, said the US Secretary of State as he went on to assert that Nusrah has never been part of the cessation. The fact that people are going after Nusrah in some cases is true but in other cases it’s clearly, by virtue of the evidence of children and women and hospitals and other things, clearly not the case, observed Kerry.
Kerry informed media-persons that he and Sergey had reached anagreement in Moscow last month after discussions with Russian President Putin on a broad set of concrete steps to achieve a meaningful, lasting ceasefire. After that both sides – the US and Russia – have been engaged in a series of technical discussions primarily aimed at making cessation real, allowing for humanitarian assistance and getting the parties to the table for serious negotiations to end the war. Nevertheless, he went on point out that some narrow issues are still remaining that need to be resolved.
Kerry emphasised that the conflict in Syria will not end without a political solution. Once the narrow issues are resolveed, UN Special Envoy Staffen de Mistura will bring the parties to the table for a political transition.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov referred to Aleppo and said although we are focused mostly on Aleppo, we also touched upon the situation in Manbij, in Hasakah and many other parts of Syria. We also discussed the humanitarian situation in Iraq, in Yemen, where the international observers keep informing on the gravest humanitarian situation.
Lavrov said while discussing those gravest problems and sufferings of people we should adopt an approach not of journalists or people who express their emotions taking to one side or another, but rather as professionals, as diplomats, that together the military should find concrete solutions. Kerry’s visit to Moscow on 15 July was very useful and the basic principles that were agreed upon during their negotiations and reinstated during the meeting that took place between Kerry and Putin had been followed up in Geneva, he added.
Lavrov was forthcoming in telling journalists that they were going to work together with the parties – Russia with the government and the opposition that is cooperating with Russia and United States with the opposition that is cooperating with them, as well as with regional players. Both are going to do that together to remove all stumbling blocks on the way towards the compliance with the cessation of hostilities.
Stressing the problem, Lavrov said that the troops cooperating with the United States or under U.S.-led coalition are located on the territory where Jabhat al-Nusrah is located. Not only are they located there, sometimes they are cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusrah, and within the framework of their operations, without delineating adequate opposition from terrorists, I don’t think there would be a way to ensure actionable, durable, and full-fledged cessation of hostilities – our overarching priority, by the way. And I note with satisfaction that there is a current understanding regarding this task, and this understanding is become more clear. We talked about specific detailed steps. We have agreed upon almost all of those steps, but some final things need to be finalized, particularly regarding the ensuring the humanitarian access to the Syrian people who need it first and foremost in the Aleppo regions both in eastern and western parts of Aleppo.
Lavrov further said: “we have agreed to step up our bilateral contacts that have been put on hold over the last couple of weeks. I’m referring to the contacts between our representatives in Geneva which until recently took place on a daily basis. And I’m talking about the contacts between the Russian military base in Khmeimim and representatives of the American command located in Amman, the capital of Jordan. I believe that the day-to-day dialogue without any interruptions will be a key to addressing all the goals we are facing.”
The Political process, emphasised by Kerry, is our utmost priority Lavrov said adding to come closer to this priority, we are going to ensure the calming down of the situation on the ground so we would ensure improved humanitarian assistance being delivered. But here there can be no preliminary conditions. If we want to wait until the situation is 100 percent calm and only then proceed with the political process, I believe nothing could be achieved at all. All of the things are interconnected. Yes, indeed, reducing violence would be instrumental in bringing all the sides to the table. But in the same way, the launch of the negotiations would help reduce violence on the ground and be more efficient in having an influence on opposing sides both on the side of Russia and United States.
Answering apointed query about delinking the moderate opposition forces from terrorists Lavrov said: “we know that this task is very difficult because Jabhat al-Nusrah keeps transforming, changing names, coming up with new umbrellas under which they bring together various groups which aren’t formally part of Jabhat al-Nusrah.”
Lavrov went on to state that in Syria there are a number of countries represented through the military and armed forces on the ground. They entered Syria without the consent of the Syrian authorities. In the context of the Russian and Iranian troops, he said that the Iranian forces are on the ground upon the request of the Syrian authorities. And according to the balanced pragmatic approach, there are statements from Damascus according to which they are willing to cooperate with all those who want to fight against terrorism.
Lavrov was piercing as he stated that at the beginning some stakeholders planned to use their forces to weaken Assad’s regime, but now everyone understands that one cannot make these mistakes once again, as happened in Afghanistan and Iraq wherein similar attempts were made. The same took place in Libya, and right now we can see the echoes of it far from the territory of Libya.
The Russian Foreign Minister also emphasised that all those who possess the special operation forces and other divisions of armed forces on the ground in Syria will have to realize that priorities need to be set, and choosing among those priorities I am confident no one will be able to turn a blind eye to the problem of terrorists, ISIL, and Jabhat al-Nusrah.
On the Turkish presence on the Syrian ground, including the Kurds factor Lavrov said that together with his American colleagues he would like to confirm the need to promptly launch a political process with the participation of all the Syrian parties without any exceptions. The Kurds also should be involved in this process. They should remain part of the Syrian state, and they should be part of the solution rather than an actor that’s going to be used to atomize and fragment Syria that would also have a fallout effect in other areas of the region, and no one is interested in that.