Syria Direct: The second round of the Geneva II peace talks is slated to begin Monday in Switzerland, and expectations remain low. The conference’s first round concluded January 31 with little tangible progress. The Syrian government delegation reluctantly agreed to base further negotiations on the Geneva I Communiqué—which calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers—and the two sides reached a tentative agreement to evacuate citizens from besieged Old Homs while allowing aid into the neighborhoods.
This agreement was finally put into effect Saturday, only to have the United Nations aid convoy come under shelling that injured one aid working and killed five Homs residents. Another convoy reentered the city Sunday, and was again shelled. The source of the attacks remains unknown, but UN officials have speculated that militias loyal to the regime were responsible. Meanwhile, the Syrian government has since the start of negotiations sustained a campaign of bombarding rebel-held areas of Syrian cities—particularly Aleppo—with “barrel bombs,” improvised bombs with little accuracy and great destructive capacity.
One day before Geneva’s second round is set to begin, two Islamist militias fighting in Syria—Jaish al-Mujahideen and the Islamic Union for Soldiers of the Levant—released a joint statement Sunday expressing their skepticism toward resuming the Geneva talks amidst the current circumstances. The statement warns that those parties who are prepared to negotiate with the regime “bear a large portion of the moral responsibility for what has been done to the Syrian people,” and insists that their participation in Geneva II will stand as “a vicious stab to the body of the Syrian revolution” unless it achieves four goals, including an end to regime blockades and the release of detained women and children. The two signatory groups released a similar statement prior to the first round of negotiations; the earlier statement, however, was signed by the Islamic Front, which ranks as Syria’s strongest rebel coalition and whose signature is conspicuously absent from the new statement. [Continue reading…]