MESOP NEWS “ THE KAZAKHSTAN ESSENTIALS”: Rebels to “Test Russia & Assad”at Political Talks

January 18 – 2017 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – Syria’s rebels say that they are attending political talks in Kazakhstan next week to test the commitment of Russia and the Assad regime to a genuine ceasefire and to aid to besieged areas.

However, sources close to rebel factions have told EA that they do not expect any regime acceptance and that they do not trust the Russians to seek a resolution. They say the challenge will then be to establish before international opinion that President Assad and his allies are only intent on further destruction, including the ongoing killing and displacement of civilians. The statements echo the comments by a Free Syrian Army official to Reuters, “The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the ceasefire and the violations by the regime. This will be a test for the Russians as the guarantor.”

On Monday, some leading rebel factions said they will attend the talks, brokered by Russia and Turkey and scheduled for January 23 in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana. Mohammad Alloush, a senior official in Jaish al-Islam, was named as lead negotiator.

Other factions, such as Ahrar al-Sham, are staying away from the discussions.

The Assad regime has confirmed it will be in Astana, with UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari heading the delegation. However, President Assad has already said that he will not step aside in any transition, an essential condition of the Syrian oppositon and rebels, and that attacks will continue — breaking a ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, on December 29 — on areas such as Wadi Barada, northwest of Damascus.

The rebel sources note not only the four-week offensive trying to overrun Wadi Barada but also pro-Assad offensives northeast of Damascus and aerial and ground assaults elsewhere in Syria. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, which documents attacks and deaths in the conflict, has said that 98% of ceasefire violations have been by the regime and its allies.

The sources anticipate that the Astana talks will quickly stall, with the regime delegation insisting that any discussion of Assad’s future is “totally unjustified” and that “terrorism” must be the lead item. A fruitless discussion of the agenda will then ensue.

The sources expressed their concern that “media across the planet” will then “relay Russian and regime propaganda blaming rebels for the end of this incredible peace initiative”.