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U.N. Launches New Syria Initiative, Slams Strategy of Forced Evacuation of Residents | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Smoke rises from Taybat al Imam town after rebel fighters advanced in the town in Hama province, Syria August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Beirut, Geneva-U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced in Geneva on Thursday his decision to present a new “political initiative” on Syria to the U.N. General Assembly meeting this month, but refused to reveal its details.

The U.N. envoy said he would explain the initiative during the week preceding the General Assembly meeting on Syria, expected next Sept. 21.

“So that is the target date for making sure that everyone is actively involved in producing some positive outcome on this conflict,” said de Mistura.

The U.N. envoy had slammed on Thursday the “strategy” to evacuate besieged Syrian cities, similar to what happened in the village of Daraya, the stronghold of the Syrian opposition factions in the countryside of Damascus.

“I share your fears regarding indications that after Daraya we may have other Darayas,” de Mistura said, adding “there is clearly a strategy at the moment to move from Daraya” to other besieged areas “in a similar pattern.”

Meanwhile, a member of Syria’s main opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, Hind Kabawat, said Thursday that Syria’s opposition is seeking to unveil its plans for a political transition to help end the country’s five-year war at a meeting of ministers in London next week.

In emailed comments to Reuters, Kabawat said the delegation would give a detailed vision for Syria.

“This would include the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers,” she said.

Other details would include the length of the transition period, a mechanism to ensure fair representation of minorities and plans for the reform and reconstitution of state institutions, Kabawat said.

There are currently no signs that Syria’s war could be stopping after five and a half years in which up to 400,000 have died and half of Syria’s population has been uprooted.

Syria’s opposition says that Bashar Assad and his close allies could not have any role in the future of the country.

Kabawat said the opposition would press foreign ministers in London to take the steps needed to restore the diplomatic process, and to hold Assad’s government accountable for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Russian Foreign Ministry had said in a statement that Russia’s Sergei Lavrov had discussed the situation in Syria with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry over the phone.

On the battlefield, reports said only five kilometers separate the Syrian opposition factions that are currently positioned in the countryside of north Hama from the Zein al-Abedeen Mountain.

An opposition military source in Hama said that Zein al-Abedeen and Rahbat al-Khattab are considered two of the most important military spots controlled by forces of Assad’s regime.

The source said that the Hama province would be out of the hands of Assad’s forces if the opposition controls both positions.

“We expect that fighting in the area escalates in the next hours,” the source added.

Opposition factions including the Army of Glory and Jund al-Aqsa (“Soldiers of al-Aqsa”) were capable in the past three days to control 13 villages and towns in the countryside of north Hama, mainly Hilfaya, Tibat al-Imam and Suran.

Member of the Free Syrian Army military council Abu Ahmad al-Assi told Asharq Al-Awsat that because Russians and Iranians were busy supporting the regime in its Aleppo battle, opposition factions were more comfortable in their battle in Hama, marking big losses in the ranks of Assad’s army.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that regime jets had raided several areas in the countryside of Hama, killing at least 25 civilians including 6 children.

In a related development, sources from Ahrar al-Sham, also known as the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant, uncovered that seven days ago, discussions were launched about a new initiative to dissolve the movement and merge it with Fatah al-Sham, previously known as al-Nusra Front.

However, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that military and political leaders from the group had rejected this new proposition and had threatened to split from the movement in case the merging was conducted.

The source said that those who support the idea of merging the movement with Fatah al-Sham were mainly foreign commanders and some Syrian radical fighters.