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Saudi-Backed Opposition Sends Rebel Leader Designated as Terrorist To Geneva

Next Cold War Roundup 2/1/16

Syrian Peace Talks

After delays and controversies, the Geneva 3 Syrian peace talks are proceeding, despite many experts’ doubts that they would ever get started or produce any useful results.  The Saudi-backed High Negotiating Committee arrived in Geneva after receiving some assurances from the US and Russia. But they also sent the leader of a Saudi-backed rebel group, Jaysh al-Islam, a group designated as terrorist by Russia and Syria.

_ The Syrian opposition group, High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said they would show up at the peace talks on Sunday, after a no show on Friday and after more pressure from John Kerry. They claim that their demands for humanitarian relief and goodwill gestures will be met. Riyad Hijab announced on Saturday that 17 members would travel to Geneva and an announcement that they had arrived.  On Sunday, Reuters reported that UN envoy de Mistura had met with the opposition groups who said they had only come because they got assurances that their humanitarian demands would be met.

_ On Monday, AFP reported that HNC is presently participating in the talks and Jaysh al-Islam commander Alloush is in Geneva, saying he will lead the negotiations for the HNC opposition umbrella group.  The Russians, who have designated Jaysh al-Islam as a terrorist group and see little difference between them and ISIS, are not happy.  The Syrian government also considers them terrorists. Different people have been reported as the HNC leader for negotiations in different news articles: Riyad Hijab (former Syrian prime minister and politician), Asaad al-Zoubi (former Syrian army general, now FSA), and now Mohammed Alloush (Saudi-backed rebel group Jaysh al-Islam political leader).  One wonders if this is really what was causing HNC to refuse to attend the talks last week while they claimed it was humanitarian reasons (which was never very credible given the past actions, including siege, by HNC rebel group allies).

_ Syrian Kurdish leaders who went to Geneva hoping for an invitation to the talks have now left. Saleh Muslim, leader of PYD and Ilham Ahmad, “Kurdish co-head of an Arab-Kurdish joint council in Syria” both left.  A PYD party member said “Yes, we left Geneva because we did not get invitations […] We will not commit to any decision that comes out of Geneva, including a ceasefire agreement.”

_ In a conversation with a source at a joint command control room, a source told Magnier of Al Rai media that “Russia will not halt any military advancements during the Geneva talks as stated in the UN resolution, especially now that Damascus and the Kremlin hold all the cards.”

Suicide Attack on Shia Shrine in Damascus

_ More than 40 people were killed (some reports as high as 71), and 100+ wounded, including a reported 25 pro-government Shia militia fighters, in a suicide attack near an important Shia shrine, Sayeda Zeinab, in the Damascus area on Sunday. ISIS claimed responsibility and said it was a triple bomb attack.  The New York Times speculates in an interesting way about the reason for the attack: “The attack on the Sayeda Zeinab shrine appeared designed to remind the government and its allies, including Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, that despite gains on the battlefield with the help of Russian air power, they remain vulnerable even in tightly held government territory and in places of extreme symbolic significance.”

_ Even though ISIS claimed responsibility for the Damascus shrine attack, Syria’s foreign minister “Jaafari said the blasts confirmed the link between the opposition and terrorism, pointing to the attacks and comments from a leader of the Southern Front, another rebel coalition.”

Ukraine Proposes Sending to Syria for Anti-ISIS Coalition

_ The Ukraine defense ministry has drawn up plans to send troops to Syria, which will be discussed this week when US Sec Def Ash Carter visits. He has been meeting with defense ministers to get more support for NATO and the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria. Ukraine govt. source: “We have prepared a range of options for our support against Isis including in Syria, which could include troops. It could result in potential clashes with Russians.”

Ongoing Fighting in Syrian War

_ A merger between Ahrar al Sham and al Nusra rebel groups failed and fighting broke out between the two groups in Idlib province near the Turkish border.

_ Christian brigade joins fight with Syrian army and Iranian Republican Guard

Will Syrian Rebels Break With Al Qaeda as Peace Talks Proceed?

_ Via Elijah Magnier and Moon of Alabama: “Jordan already inspired its proxies to distance themselves from Jabhat al Nusra. Qatar, Turkey and the Saudis will very soon follow” and this will force them to stop fighting each other because all the other rebel groups will be forced to break ties al Nusra.  The reason is the UN resolution requirement that opposition groups involved in the peace talks cannot have ties with ISIS or Al Qaeda.  All of this applies, of course, as long as the peace talks hold up and as long as the rebel groups follow the rules, rules aren’t changed or bent, etc. This puts peace talk participating rebels on the side of the anti-ISIS, anti-AQ coalition that is supposed to be formed by the peace talks ceasefire agreements. Magnier believes that ISIS and AQ will soon be reduced to underground terrorist organizations again. Moon of Alabama explains why he thinks Syria will root out al Nusra (AQ).

Turkey Shelling Over Border Into Syria. Russia Changes Rules of Engagement.

_ RT is reporting that the Russian defense ministry has poduced evidence that Turkey is shelling Syrian territory and has heavy artillery “positioned close to the border.”  A source in the joint operations command room run by Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah told Elijah Magnier that Russia has ramped up resources deployed, has changed rules of engagement on the Syrian-Turkish border and that Syria’s previous non-aggression agreements with Turkey are no longer applicable.

“Russia has established new rules of engagement on the Syrian-Turkish border, and has retained the upper hand for the Syrian air force and the Syrian army, Russia also refurbished and upgraded custom made Syrian MiG29, to protect the Russian air force squadrons, with clear orders to shoot down Turkish planes that enter the Syrian air space”

“The agreement previously concluded with Turkey during the presidency of the late Hafez Assad in 1998, which says no Syrian air force units should come within 15 Km of the Turkish-Syrian border on Syria’s side […] the agreement also included that no army battalions are to be deployed, and that only officers and border control personnel are allowed, this has all gone down the drain”

UK Troops to Libya

_ Even though there have been reports that UK special forces are already in Libya, Guardian is reporting “UK considering military action against ISIS in Libya.” RT calls it a “scramble for Africa” because UK peacekeeping troops have also recently deployed to South Sudan.

Gas Pipelines to Europe

_ VP Biden talked to Cyprus president about a settlement

and about “talks held on Thursday by Greece, Israel and Cyprus exploring the possibility of building a natural gas pipeline to Europe.” They signed an agreement on water resources and discussed the exploitation of offshore gas fields in the Mediterranean “as well as migration, combatting terrorism and boosting tourism.

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Joanne Leon

Joanne Leon

Joanne is a blogger with focus on issues of war and peace, a mom, engineer, software developer and amateur photographer.