Syria Today: More Noise About “Peace Talks” — But Does It Matter?

May 22, 2013 | Scott Lucas in EA Iran, EA Live, Middle East & Iran

The rhetoric over an international conference for a resolution of the Syrian crisis continues. On Tuesday, it was the turn of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi — long sidelined by dismissal of his initiatives — to provide the declarations:

    The Syrian people are building great hopes on the conference, as the opposition prepares itself to take part and likewise the Syrian regime prepares to take part in this conference.The United Nations is working to organise the conference in the best way possible.

Moaz al-Khatib, who recently resigned as head of the opposition Syrian National Coaliition, also provided some positive words:

    All the opposition forces want is a solution for the Syrian people. Rebels have nothing to lose. They are determined to stay to the end. But we are facing unprecedented suffering.  Therefore all opposition forces have no objection to finding a political solution, but not at the expense of more bloodshed.  None of this, however, changes the fundamental that the regime and the opposition cannot even agree on a starting point for talks. The political and military insurgency insist that President Assad must stop aside in a transition, a demand rejected by Assad himself this week. Tat stalemate is mirrored by the distance between the US and Russia, the two leading international promoters of the conference, with Washington supporting the pre-condition and Moscow making clear it will not be allowed. Beyond the words of Brahimi and al-Khatib, opposition groups restated their position on Tuesday. At the conclusion of a two-day conference in Spain, about 80 representatives said Assad would not be in any transitional government or have any role in Syria’s future.

Insurgent Attack in Idlib Province

Claimed footage of insurgents attacking a base for regime militia in Idlib Province:

Almost 40% of Population In Need of Aid

Senior United Nations official Panos Moumtzis has said that the total number of people in need of assistance is now 8.3 million, about 38% of Syria’s population.  Moumtsis, the regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, said about 6.8 million people were in need inside the country while 1.5 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Moumtzis said the humanitarian situation in Syria has been “rapidly spiralling downwards” since the start of the year: “UNHCR [UN High Commission for Refugees] is now very much worried about the coming summer months and in particular the increase in temperatures and the associated health problems linked to water and sanitation.”

Turkey Shuts Last Crossing Controlled by Syrian Regime

Turkey has shut its side of the last border crossing with Syria still controlled by the Assad regime, following a double car bomb in the Turkish city of Reyhanli on 11 May which killed 51 people. Customs Minister Hayat Yazici said the Yayladagi gate, about 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Reyhanli, would remain closed for a month, during which only Turkish citizens arriving from Syria or non-Syrians transiting through Turkey would be allowed to cross.  No one would be allowed to cross from Turkey into Syria.

The Yayladagi gate is the only crossing along the 900-kilometre (550-mile) border whose Syrian side which has not fallen to insurgents. The crossing is the main route to Syria’s northwestern coastal area around Latakia, which has a large population of Alawites, the religious group to which Assad belongs.

The Battle of Qusayr

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has called on insurgents across the country to send reinforcements to Qusayr, near the Lebanese border and 18 miles from Homs, which has been under sustained attack by regime forces.

George Sabra, acting head of the Coalition, called on fighters to send arms and men to the area, citing concern over sectarian violence and “foreign invaders” from Hezbollah and Iran: “O sons of the Syrian revolution, foreign forces are invading your country …They aim to destroy your lives, so rush to defend your nation.” – Sabra continued, “Everyone who has weapons or ammunition should send them to Qusayr and Homs to strengthen its resistance. Every bullet sent to Qusayr and Homs will block the invasion that is trying to drag Syria back to the era of fear.” The acting Coalition head that Hezbollah forces in Qusayr could fan Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East: “The invasion will light a sectarian fire that will destroy relationships between countries in the region and their people. No one will benefit other than Israel.”

Fighting in Lebanon

Rula Amin of Al Jazeera English reports on renewed fighting in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, where at least 10 people have been killed and 70 wounded in clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime.