No sooner had talks that the UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura rushed into announcing as the “official launch” of the non-direct negotiations between the regime’s delegation and that of the supreme negotiating body began, than they were struck by a blow that may be fatal. The Assad regime and the Russian air force recently bombed the city of Aleppo and this attack was the most violent in the last five years of war according to the opposition in Geneva.
Western diplomatic sources told Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday that it is clear that the Assad regime and Russia are “using bombing as a bargaining chip or an attempt to forestall negotiations”. These sources have been keeping a close eye on events in Geneva and added that the “timing of the bombing” – the second day of the first meeting held by the opposition with the UN envoy may have a number of aims, one of which may be “discrediting” the opposition and belittling them amongst their supporters. Another aim may be to “drive a wedge between the opposition and sponsoring countries” that pressurised the opposition to go to Geneva and participate in the talks with de Mistura and negotiations with the regime’s delegation at a later stage.
Forces of the Assad regime carried out a large offensive yesterday north of Aleppo and were able to progress in the direction of the Shiite towns Nabal and Al-Zahra which have been besieged since 2013. The attack also aims to cut the supply lines of opposition fighters between the north western Syrian city of Aleppo and the border with Turkey.
In a related context, the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is undermining international efforts to end the civil war in Syria by bombing opponents of ISIS in his quest to strengthen Bashar Al-Assad’s position. He added that “It is a constant source of sadness to me that everything we do is undermined by the Russians”. The Russian Foreign Ministry strongly criticised Hammond’s remarks by saying that he is spreading “serious and false information”, and the Kremlin said that his statements cannot be taken seriously. Hammond made these remarks on the sidelines of his visit to a refugee camp in Jordan that he was inspecting.