Assad calls parliamentary elections to be held April 13

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has issued a decree calling for general parliamentary elections that will take place on April 13.

Bashar al-Assad [photo via Wikimedia Commons]
Bashar al-Assad [photo via Wikimedia Commons]

Syria holds a general election every four years, with the previous vote taking place in 2012. The Syrian parliament or People’s Council has 250 members elected for a four year term in 15 multi-seat constituencies.

The majority in the parliament is currently held by the government coalition, with opposition Popular Front for Change and Liberation and independent MPs jointly having 82 seats.

Source: Russia Today

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US & Russia joint statement on cessation oh hostilities in Syria

The United States and the Russian Federation have issued a joint statement on the cessation of hostilities in Syria.

Full text + the annex:

The United States of America and the Russian Federation, as co-chairs of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and seeking to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis with full respect for the fundamental role of the United Nations, are fully determined to provide their strongest support to end the Syrian conflict and establish conditions for a successful Syrian-led political transition process, facilitated by the UN, in order to fully implement the Munich Statement of the ISSG on February 11th, 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2254, the 2015 Vienna Statements and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.

In this regard, and in furtherance of the February 11th decisions of the ISSG, the United States and Russia, as co-chairs of the ISSG and ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, announce the adoption on February 22, 2016, of the Terms for a Cessation of Hostilities in Syria attached as an Annex to this statement, and propose that the cessation of hostilities commence at 00:00 (Damascus time) on February 27, 2016. The cessation of hostilities is to be applied to those parties to the Syrian conflict that have indicated their commitment to and acceptance of its terms. Consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the statements of the ISSG, the cessation of hostilities does not apply to “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.

Any party engaged in military or para-military hostilities in Syria, other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council will indicate to the Russian Federation or the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG, their commitment to and acceptance of the terms for the cessation of hostilities by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016. In order to implement the cessation of hostilities in a manner that promotes stability and protects those parties participating in it, the Russian Federation and the United States are prepared to work together to exchange pertinent information (e.g., aggregated data that delineates territory where groups that have indicated their commitment to and acceptance of the cessation of hostilities are active, and a focal point for each side, in order to ensure effective communication) and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the Armed Forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them, and other parties to the cessation of hostilities. Military actions, including airstrikes, of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, the Russian Armed Forces, and the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition will continue against ISIL, “Jabhat al-Nusra,” and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council. The Russian Federation and United States will also work together, and with other members of the Ceasefire Task Force, as appropriate and pursuant to the ISSG decision of February 11, 2016, to delineate the territory held by “Daesh,” “Jabhat al-Nusra” and other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council, which are excluded from the cessation of hostilities.

In order to promote the effective implementation of the cessation of hostilities, the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, co-chaired by the United States and Russia, has been established under UN auspices, including political and military officials from the co-chairs and other Task Force members; the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria (OSE) serves as secretariat. The primary functions of the Task Force are, as provided in the ISSG Statement of February 11, to: a) delineate the territory held by “Daesh”, “Jabhat-al-Nusra” and other terrorist organizations designated by the United Nations Security Council; b) ensure communications among all parties to promote compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions; c) resolve allegations of non-compliance; and d) refer persistent non-compliant behavior by any of the parties to the ISSG Ministers or those designated by the Ministers to determine appropriate action, including the exclusion of such parties from the arrangements of the cessation of hostilities, and the protection it affords them.

The United States and Russia are prepared, in their capacities as co-chairs of the Ceasefire Task Force and in coordination with other members of the ISSG Ceasefire Task Force as appropriate, to develop effective mechanisms to promote and monitor compliance with the ceasefire both by the governmental forces of the Syrian Arab Republic and other forces supporting them, and the armed opposition groups. To achieve this goal and to promote an effective and sustainable cessation of hostilities, the Russian Federation and the United States will establish a communication hotline and, if necessary and appropriate, a working group to exchange relevant information after the cessation of hostilities has gone into effect. In addressing incidents of non-compliance, every effort should be made to promote communications among all parties to restore compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions, and non-forcible means should be exhausted whenever possible before resorting to use of force. The United States and Russia as co-chairs of ISSG Ceasefire Task Force will develop such further modalities and standard operating procedures as may be necessary to implement these functions.

The United States and the Russian Federation together call upon all Syrian parties, regional states and others in the international community to support the immediate cessation of violence and bloodshed in Syria and to contribute to the swift, effective and successful promotion of the UN-facilitated political transition process in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, the February 11 Statement of the ISSG, the 2015 Vienna statements of the ISSG, and the 2012 Geneva Communiqué.

ANNEX

TERMS FOR CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES IN SYRIA

The nationwide cessation of hostilities is to apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities against any other parties other than “Daesh”, “Jabhat al-Nusra”, or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council.

The responsibilities of the Syrian armed opposition are set out in paragraph 1 below. The responsibilities of the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and all forces supporting or associated with the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic are set out in paragraph 2 below.

1.  To take part in the cessation of hostilities, armed opposition groups will confirm – to the United States of America or the Russian Federation, who will attest such confirmations to one another as co-chairs of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26 2016 – their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:

  • To full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, ‑ including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
  • To cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles, against Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and any associated forces;
  • To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
  • To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, safe, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
  • To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.

2.  The above-mentioned commitments will be observed by such armed opposition groups, provided that the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, and all forces supporting or associated with the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic have confirmed to the Russian Federation as co-chair of the ISSG by no later than 12:00 (Damascus time) on February 26, 2016 their commitment to and acceptance of the following terms:

  • To full implementation of UN Security Resolution 2254, adopted unanimously on December 18, 2015, including the readiness to participate in the UN-facilitated political negotiation process;
  • To cease attacks with any weapons, including aerial bombardments by the Air Force of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation, against the armed opposition groups (as confirmed to the United States or the Russian Federation by parties to the cessation of hostilities);
  • To refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire;
  • To allow humanitarian agencies, rapid, unhindered and sustained access throughout areas under their operational control and allow immediate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need;
  • To proportionate use of force (i.e., no greater than required to address an immediate threat) if and when responding in self-defense.

The Russian Federation and the United States, as co-chairs of the ISSG and ISSG Ceasefire Task Force, are prepared to work together to ensure effective communications and develop procedures necessary for preventing parties participating in the cessation of hostilities from being attacked by Russian Armed Forces, the U.S.-led Counter ISIL Coalition, the Armed Forces of the Syrian government and other forces supporting them, and other parties to the cessation of hostilities.

All parties further commit to work for the early release of detainees, particularly women and children.

Any party can bring a violation or potential violation of the cessation of hostilities to the attention of the Task Force, either through the OSE or the co-chairs. The OSE and Co-Chairs will establish liaison arrangements with each other and the parties, and inform the public generally about how any party may bring a violation to the attention of the Task Force.

The United States and the Russian Federation as co-chairs confirm that the cessation of hostilities will be monitored in an impartial and transparent manner and with broad media coverage.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Multiple bombings in southern Damascus kill at least 120

Multiple explosions hit a southern district of Damascus Sunday where Syria’s holiest Shiite shrine is located, as various Syrian sources claimed at least 120 were killed.

Three blasts hit al-Tin street, a schools’ street in al-Sayyida Zeinab town in southern Damascus, the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. It said that terrorists detonated a car bomb loaded with a large quantity of explosives, while the bombing was followed by two other suicide bombings with explosive belts after the civilians gathered in the place.

Multiple bomb attack in al-Sayyida Zeinab town in southern Damascus kills more than 70
Multiple bomb attack in al-Sayyida Zeinab town in southern Damascus kills more than 70

ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to Al-Mayadeen.

Suicide attacks last month claimed by ISIS in Al-Sayyida Zeinab killed at least 45 people.

Syrian prime minister Wael al-Halaqi condemned the attacks saying that terrorist organizations are committing their attacks to make up for the recurring losses and defeats they suffer at the hands of the Syrian Arab Army.

Twin car bomb attack in Homs kills more than 46, dozens injured

At least 46 people were killed in twin car bomb blasts that hit Syria’s Homs on Sunday in one of the deadliest such attacks in the city in five years of civil war, a monitoring group said, and state media confirmed the explosions. At least 100 others were wounded by the explosions in the city center’s Zahra district, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Footage from pro-Damascus television channels showed charred corpses buried among rubble, damage to shop fronts and debris littering a wide area. Many cars were on fire, sending out plumes of black smoke. Wounded people walked around dazed.

A general view shows the site of a two bomb blasts in the city of Homs, in this handout picture provided by SANA
A general view shows the site of a two bomb blasts in the city of Homs, in this handout picture provided by SANA

State television quoted the governor of Homs as saying at least 32 people had been killed.

A bomb attack claimed by Islamic State last month in Homs in the west of the country killed at least 24 people as government forces took back some Islamic State-held villages in Aleppo province in the north.

Sources: SANA, SOHR, Reuters

 

Assad says cessation of hostilities could be positive under certain conditions

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with Spanish newspaper El País he was ready for a ceasefire, on condition “terrorists” did not use a lull in fighting to their advantage and that countries backing insurgents halted support for them.

His comments were made as the Syrian opposition said it had agreed to the “possibility” of a temporary truce, provided there were guarantees Damascus’s allies including Russia would cease fire, sieges were lifted and aid deliveries were allowed country-wide.

“We have said that we are ready to stop military operations, but the issue relates to more important factors … such as preventing terrorists from using it to improve their positions,” Assad told El Pais. He also said any truce must ensure that “other countries, especially Turkey, are prevented from sending more terrorists and weapons, or any kind of logistical support”. Damascus refers to all insurgents fighting against the Syrian army and its allies as terrorists. Turkey, other Sunni regional powers and Western countries have supported insurgents fighting against Assad, whose forces are bolstered by Iran, Russia and Lebanese Hezbollah.

Asked about the possibility of Turkey and Saudi Arabia sending ground forces into Syria, Assad said: “We’re going to deal with them like we deal with the terrorists. We’re going to defend our country. This is aggression.”

Attempts to negotiate a truce in recent months have failed. The latest round of talks at the United Nations in Geneva is being jointly chaired by Russia and the United States. World powers agreed in Munich on Feb. 12 to a cessation of hostilities that would let humanitarian aid  be delivered in Syria. The ceasefire was scheduled to start a week later, but did not take effect. Syrian army offensives continue unabated across the country, backed by Russian air strikes. Assad said last week he would keep “fighting terrorism” while peace talks took place, vowing to retake the whole country.

He told El Pais his troops were now close to fully controlling the northern city of Aleppo and were advancing towards the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa province. Once he has control of the country, Assad also said in the interview, the next step would be to form a national unity government that would lay the groundwork for a new constitution and general elections.

Sources: El País, Reuters

Russia fails in UN bid to rein in Turkey over Syria

Western powers rejected a Russian bid at the United Nations to halt Turkey’s military actions in Syria, as France warned of a dangerous escalation in the nearly five-year conflict.

The emergency Security Council meeting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned there was “a lot more work to do” for a ceasefire to take hold in Syria, following talks in Geneva between American and Russian officials.

Meanwhile President Barack Obama, in a phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged the Ankara government and Kurdish YPG forces to “show reciprocal restraint” in northern Syria.

The elusive truce was meant to begin Friday, but failed to materialize as fighting raged in Syria with Kurdish-led forces backed by US-led air power seizing a key town from the Islamic State group.

Russia, which has been carrying out air strikes in support of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces, has urged the UN to press Turkey to halt its shelling of Kurdish forces in the country’s north.

Moscow presented a draft resolution that “strongly demands” an immediate end to cross-border shellings and plans — supported by Turkey — for foreign ground intervention in Syria.

But the text failed to garner support from key council members with at least six countries including veto-wielding France and the United States rejecting it outright during a closed-door meeting, diplomats said.

US Ambassador Samantha Power accused Moscow of trying to “distract the world” from its air campaign in support of the Syrian regime and urged it to abide by UN resolutions supporting a peace process.

“Russia must understand that its unconditional support to Bashar al-Assad is a dead-end and a dead-end that could be extremely dangerous,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre said.

“We are facing a dangerous military escalation that could easily get out of control and lead us to uncharted territory,” he said.

Turkey is pressing for a joint ground operation in Syria with its international allies, insisting it is the only way to stop the war.

Turkish Ambassador Yasar Halit Cevik said his country was facing “national security threats emanating from Syria” in reference to the Kurdish militias it is targeting in the country’s north.

Amid the surge in fighting, UN peace envoy Staffan de Mistura said a new round of peace talks scheduled for February 25 was unlikely.

In his call with Erdogan, Obama stressed that Kurdish YPG forces “should not seek to exploit circumstances in this area to seize additional territory, and urged Turkey to show reciprocal restraint by ceasing artillery strikes in the area,” a White House statement said.

Obama, in an apparent reference to Russia, also “urgently called for a halt to actions that heighten tensions with Turkey and with moderate opposition forces in northern Syria, and undermine our collective efforts in northern Syria to degrade and defeat ISIL.”

French President Francois Hollande said Ankara’s escalating involvement in the conflict was creating a risk of war between Turkey and Russia.

“Turkey is involved in Syria… There, there is a risk of war,” Hollande told France Inter radio.