8 Sept 2016 – Syria’s opposition tried to seize the political initiative on Wednesday, tabling a detailed plan for political transition to end the country’s 5 1/2-year conflict.
After weeks in which Russia — supported by the US — had the leading position with high-profile if illusory declarations about “humanitarian corridors” and temporary ceasefires, the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee returned yesterday to the focus of a transitional governing authority, first proposed by the international community in 2012.The 25-page plan set out a A six-month negotiating process leading to the transitional body, followed within a year by Presidential, Parliamentary, and municipal elections. President Assad will remain in office during the transitional period, but will be expected to depart by the end.
Promising “a political system that protects freedoms, safeguards individual rights, and that is founded upon the principles of liberty, equality, citizenship, and justice”, the HNC said many State officials would remain in their posts, ensuring that the system does not collapse. A joint military council will include representatives from the rebels and those in the Assad armed forces “who have not stained their hands with Syrian blood”.
Read the opposition plan
The plan has almost no hope of progress given President Assad’s insistence on retaining power. Deputy Foreign Minister Feisal Mikdad said on Wednesday that any demands for Assad’s eventual departure from power were “crazy” and “unbelievable”: “We are saying, let the Syrian people decide their own fate. Their own future without intervention. Don’t make preconditions who will rule Syria.”However, the opposition is hoping to win back international support with the initiative, after the steady move of the US towards partnership with Moscow, the Assad regime’s essential ally. Despite intense Russian bombing to prop up the regime — including the restoration of a siege on opposition areas in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city — the Obama Administration has continued to put its faith in a bilateral agreement promising a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict.There was some sign of success yesterday. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who declared this spring that the West must work with Assad, wrote of “the scaffolding of a post-Assad Syria”.
The head of the HNC, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, said on Wednesday, “If what the Russians and the Americans agree upon is very much different from what the Syrians aspire to, then we shall not accept it.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet again in Geneva on Thursday.
American officials said last weekend that the two sides were close to a deal including intelligence sharing on airstrikes as well as arrangements for aid and temporary ceasefires. However, Russia pulled back as it carried out intensive bombing to support a pro-Assad advance near Aleppo, renewing the siege on opposition districts.
Russia Issues Its Toughest Criticism of Turkish Military Intervention – Russia has issued its toughest criticism of the Turkish military intervention into northern Syria that began on August 24.
Moscow said in a Wednesday: Russia’s Foreign Ministry expresses serious concern in connection with the movement of the Syrian troops and paramilitary formations of the Syrian opposition, supported by them, inside Syrian territory. We are paying attention to the fact that these actions are being conducted without coordination with the legitimate Syrian authorities and without approval on the part of the UN Security Council.
This puts in question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic. With account for that, the position of Damascus appears fair and justified from the international-legal viewpoint. We are proceeding from the fact that Turkey’s actions may additionally complicate the already difficult military-political situation in Syria, negatively affect the international efforts to develop a platform of settlement ensuring a more stable nature of the regime of cessation of hostilities, uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid laying the foundation for a solid peace and helping overcome the crisis in that country.
Russia had been muted in its response to the Turkish airstrikes, tanks, and special forces supporting a rebel offensive in northern Aleppo Province. The offensive has already taken a 55-km (34-mile) corridor along the Turkish-Syrian border from the Islamic State, and has advanced south to take some areas from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Moscow had even shifted its labeling of rebels, dropping the tag of “terrorists” and acknowledging the Syrian “opposition”. Observers speculated on Wednesday that the tougher Russian language was prompted by the announcement of the Turkish military and rebels of an advance to take the town of al-Bab, about 40 km (25 miles) northeast of Aleppo city. Analysts have foreseen a race for al-Bab between rebels, Kurdish militia, and pro-Assad forces as the Islamic State weakens.