Bombings, airstrikes in Syria rattle Geneva talks

‘SPOILERS’ EXPECTED::The militant rebel alliance Tahrir al-Sham, which opposes the talks, said that five suicide bombers carried out an attack in Homs that killed dozens

Reuters, GENEVA, Switzerland

Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - Page 4

A UN peace envoy said a militant attack in Syria on Saturday was a deliberate attempt to wreck peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, while the warring sides traded blame and appeared no closer to actual negotiations.

Suicide bombers stormed two Syrian security offices in Homs, Syria, killing dozens with gunfire and explosions including the head of military security, prompting airstrikes against the last rebel-held enclave in the western city.

“Spoilers were always expected and should continue to be expected, to try to influence the proceedings of the talks. It is in the interest of all parties who are against terrorism and are committed to a political process in Syria not to allow these attempts to succeed,” UN mediator Staffan de Mistura said in a statement.

De Mistura has met the two sides separately in Geneva while while he tries to get agreement on how talks to end the six-year-old conflict should be arranged.

He has warned not to expect any quick breakthrough and to beware of letting the violence derail any fragile progress, as happened repeatedly in the past.

The militant rebel alliance Tahrir al-Sham, which opposes the talks — although it has fought alongside factions that are represented there — said that five suicide bombers had carried out Saturday’s attack.

It celebrated with the words “thanks be to God,” but stopped short of claiming responsibility.

Tahrir al-Sham was formed this year from several groups including Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which was formerly known as al-Nusra Front and was al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch until it broke formal allegiance to the global militant movement last year.

After a meeting with de Mistura, Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afar spoke to reporters and repeatedly demanded the opposition condemn the attacks or face the consequences.

“If anyone refuses to condemn this terrorist attack then he is an accomplice of terrorism and we will deal with them accordingly,” Bashar al-Ja’afari said.

He ruled out leaving the talks, saying he would meet de Mistura again tomorrow, but he implied that some of the opponents that he had sat face-to-face with at Thursday’s opening ceremony were “sponsors of terrorism.”

Warplanes also carried out six raids on Douma in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, resulting in six deaths, and earlier, an air raid in Hama killed four people from the same family, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Basma Kodmani, a negotiator from the opposition High Negotiations Committee, said groups backing the talks had abided by the ceasefire, but she questioned the government’s commitment and whether Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was ready to pressure it to curb the violence.

After al-Ja’afari’s comments, the opposition condemned the attack, but accused the government of trying to use the events to derail the negotiations.

“We condemn all terrorist acts done by all terrorist groups. If the Homs operation was done by any of those, it is clear what I say,” lead negotiator Nasr al-Hariri told reporters.