Soldiers fix a fence on the border with Lebanon while smoke billows in the background, from rockets fired from Syria.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
THESSALONIKI – The UN’s special envoy to the crisis in Syria, Staffan de Mistura, will brief the Security Council on Wednesday in a closed-door session on his diplomatic efforts to end the war.
His prognosis is likely to be grim, as one side of the indirect talks – the rebellion against Syria’s nominal president, Bashar Assad – walked out of the Geneva-based negotiations last week in protest, as regime bombing intensified in and around the strategically significant city of Aleppo.
Rebel military and political leaders have directed their troops to fight back. And in the last 24 hours alone, at least 30 people have been killed and dozens more wounded around the crucial city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Tuesday.
One overnight round of air strikes on an opposition-held area killed five rescue workers.
The Security Council requested the briefing, according to de Mistura’s spokesman.
Wednesday is the last scheduled day of the UN-led negotiating round, but de Mistura hopes to reconvene both delegations some time in May. His goal is to produce a paper with ideas shared by both sides on what a political transition for Syria would look like.
A surge in violence on the ground risks collapsing the diplomatic effort and an informal cessation of hostilities agreed upon by Assad and opposition forces.
Russia and the United States, with permanent seats on the council, remain on opposing sides of the war.
Recent air raids on rebel forces and civilian areas have been in regions where Russian jets operate exclusively, the US State Department has alleged.
In a conference call on Monday, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the US agreed to coordinate in order to pressure Russia and Iran – the two main governments that have supported Assad since the start of the war five years ago – to maintain the two-month-old truce and keep the Geneva talks alive.
But US intelligence and defense agencies believe Assad’s axis is preparing for a major escalation of the conflict, as Moscow and Tehran continue stockpiling him with heavy weaponry and repositioning their own forces in Syria’s northeast.
Russia declared its military operations on behalf of Assad largely complete back in February, prompting what Moscow characterized as a partial pullout of its forces.
On Monday, Bashar Ja’afari, Assad’s chief delegate at the talks, said he submitted “amendments” to the working UN document on a political transition.
“Today we submitted constitutional amendments to the paper submitted to us by the special envoy, and we consider such amendments to be an integral part of this paper,” said Ja’afari, who has previously ruled out negotiating over the presidency – specifically, over Assad’s departure from it, the nonnegotiable objective of the rebellion.
“I can describe this particular round as useful and productive,” Ja’afari added, speaking of the round at which his opposition was not present.
While leadership of the rebellion, represented by the Saudi Arabia-coordinated High Negotiations Committee, officially suspended participation in the talks a week ago, they left behind a small team of technical experts that has continued working with de Mistura’s team.
De Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2011, which has furthermore displaced over half of Syria’s prewar population and gripped Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Europe with a historic refugee flow.
Reuters contributed to this report.