Pre-Geneva activation

Yesterday, Moscow held talks between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, on the eve of the intra-Syrian talks, which will be held in Geneva on February 23 under the auspices of the UN. The talks were held on the day of the second round of consultations in Astana, in the context of a meeting between the Syrian government and the opposition, mediated by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The opposition have been clashing with government forces in Syria's southern city of Daraa, the AP reported. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an al-Qaida-linked faction attacked government forces Sunday, shattering an extended spell of calm in the contested region. The opposition-run monitoring group says government forces have responded with a relentless barrage of artillery and airstrikes, destroying at least one field hospital in the contested provincial capital. Issam al-Rais, a commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army's Southern Front, said that  mainstream rebel factions were also taking part in the fighting, in response to persistent government violations of the Dec. 30 cease-fire.. "If the regime disciplines itself, then we are committed to the cease-fire," al-Rais told the AP.

Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces meanwhile pounded the northern Syrian town of al-Bab as pro-government forces attacked the nearby village of Tadef. Both sides are trying to expel the ISIS group from the region and claim it for themselves. The two sides are about 5 kilometers apart.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, in Moscow expressed the opinion that instead of information about Syria, we often face propaganda, and instead of real assistance to the Syrian people - with speculation on humanitarian themes. "The Syrian conflict has no solely military solution. We need not only a victory over the terrorists, the participation of all non-terrorists in the future of their country is important. That is why the Coordination centre for reconciliation of opposing sides on the territory of Syria was created. As part of our visit to Syria in the end of last year, we visited the Hmeymim air base, where it is located and successfully operates. One of the central purposes of its work is concluding agreements, joining illegal armed groups and individual settlements to the cessation of hostilities in Syria. According to our information, their number has exceeded a thousand and continues to grow. And these successes are certainly not less important than military success," Kosachev said.

March will mark a year since the intra-Syrian talks, mediated by special envoy of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria de Mistura, have started in Geneva and the basic principles of a political solution to the Syrian crisis were outlined. "The Astana talks with the involvement of such key regional players as Iran and Turkey (previously for which it was difficult to sit at the same table) were initiated not to replace the Geneva talks, but to support them. It was even more difficult to bring the representatives of Damascus and the armed opposition at the same table. But that is why the Astana talks are important, it may be another turning point in the intra-Syrian settlement," the senator believes.

"The Astana process", launched under the auspices of Russia, Turkey and Iran, was also praised at Lavrov's meeting with de Mistura. Lavrov noted that the coming intra-Syrian talks in Geneva should proceed strictly within the parameters outlined by UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which stipulate, among other things, maximally inclusive and equal participation of various segments of the Syrian opposition. Unless all opposition groups, including the Moscow, Cairo, Astana and Khmeimim groups as well as the Kurds, are properly represented, it is impossible to expect the next Geneva round to be a success. It was emphasised that repeating past mistakes, in which support for only one radical external opposition group left the negotiating process frozen since April 2016, would be unacceptable.     

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