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Syrian foreign affairs minister to visit India on January 11

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New Delhi: Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Walid Al-Muallem will pay a three-day official visit to India from January 11 during which he will meet the Indian top leadership.

External affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup also disclosed Al-Muallem’s schedule in India, in a media briefing.

He will meet External Affairs Minister (Sushma Swaraj) for bilateral talks of mutual interest. He will also meet the Indian leadership during his stay,

Al-Muallem will be accompanied by four other delegation members – the deputy Foreign Minister, the advisor to the deputy Prime Minister, chief of cabinet of the deputy Prime Minister and another official from the minister’s office.

The visit assumes importance in view of fresh initiatives taken by the UN to bring about peace in war-torn Syria, where over 300,000 people have been killed in the past four years and seven million have fled to other countries.

European nations have also witnessed a huge influx of Syrian refugees.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Moscow last month, held detailed talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the growing threat of Islamic State and the Syrian crisis.

Since the Paris terror attack, many Western nations have directly or indirectly established contact with the Syrian government to counter activities of the Islamic State.

Special advisor to the Syrian president, Buthina Shaban, had visited India in March 2013.(Inputs from IANS)(Picture Courtesy: theiranproject.com)

 

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Astana Talks on Syria continues despite setbacks; Next round will occur within a month

Russia considers the second round of Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan a success; Astana discussions were an important step towards solving the Syrian crisis

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Astana
Participants of Syria peace talks attend a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Feb. 16, 2017, VOA

Moscow, February 20, 2017: Russia considers the second round of Syria peace talks, held this week in Astana (Kazakhstan), a success, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Saturday.

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The director of the ministry’s Middle East and North Africa department, Sergey Vershinin, told Russian state media the talks in Astana were an important step toward resolving the Syrian crisis.

Three guarantor countries — Russia and Iran, which back the Syrian government, and Turkey, which backs some rebels opposed to it — organized the talks in Kazakhstan. In addition to the host country, others attending included representatives from Damascus and armed Syrian opposition groups, the United Nations and various observers, such as the United States and Jordan.

Delegations at the talks in the Kazakh capital were smaller and lower-level than they were during the first round of the Astana Process in January. They were unable to agree on a final statement, and there was still no direct dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition. Despite those factors, Russian officials gave an optimistic assessment of the results.

“I would say that it is going to take a long period of time to realize direct negotiations between the two sides of the Syrian conflict,” Russia’s delegation head, Alexander Lavrentiev, said. “… Little mutual trust exists between them. They have been accusing each other all the time. But I believe that we have to move … forward step by step, leaving no room for more conflicts.”

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Tensions simmer

The talks began a day later than scheduled. The head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar Jaafari, said the lack of agreement on a final statement was caused by the late arrivals of the Syrian opposition and Turkish delegations. Jaafari said those involved were irresponsible, and he accused them of aiming to disrupt discussions.

Syrian rebels said there was no final statement, considered a bare minimum for most such negotiations, because cease-fire conditions were not being met. Armed opposition groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say the Damascus government and its supporters regularly violate the truce.

The head of Assad’s delegation repeated accusations that Turkey was supporting terrorism and called on Ankara to withdraw its troops from Syrian territory and close its border. Jaafari said Turkish forces were violating Syria’s sovereignty.

Turkish troops have been fighting two foes in Syria: extremists from the Islamic State group, which Turkey is attempting to push back from its border with Syria, and Kurdish militias that Ankara contends are controlled by alleged terrorists from the militant group YPG. Turkish commanders said Friday that they were close to expelling all IS fighters from Syria’s al-Bab town.

Jaafari complained that Turkey had downgraded its representatives in Astana to lower-level officials, but the Syrian rebels’ delegation also was diminished, with representatives of only nine armed groups present, down from 14 when the talks began in January.

And while U.N. officials took part in the meetings, the head of their group, U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, traveled instead to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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Astana supported

In the Russian capital, de Mistura said there was strong support for the Astana talks, “because we feel that focusing on the cessation of hostilities is the beginning of everything related to any negotiations on Syria. And … that helps — and is helping — the holding of the Geneva talks.”

Talks on Syria are expected to take place in Geneva on Thursday, after bilateral discussions beginning on Monday.

However, the head of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, Vasily Kuznetsov, said he was much less optimistic about what could be achieved when the talks shift to Switzerland.

“While you discuss the problem on the ground, the military problems, you can have some progress,” Kuznetsov said. “But … when you discuss the political process … [in Geneva], the constitution, the government and the election, yes, in this situation of total mistrust between every actor, I don’t understand how they can have any progress in these discussions.”

A third round of talks is expected to convene in Astana within a month.

A political scientist from the Russian Higher School of Economics, Leonid Isayev, said, “It’s much more comfortable for the Syrian regime to find solutions in this [Astana] format,” because the number of participants will much lower than in Geneva.

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Trilateral cease-fire mechanism

Despite the bumps in the Astana talks, Russia, Turkey and Iran hashed out some details of a trilateral mechanism for Syria designed to help solidify a cease-fire agreed to in late December.

The cease-fire, which excludes designated terrorist groups such as Islamic State, has been violated sporadically, but the truce has largely held.

If the political talks in Geneva break down, however, Isayev said the cease-fire could unravel quickly, “especially in the central and southern parts of Syria.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry posted a statement late Friday noting that while the joint group for a Syrian cease-fire was formed to investigate and prevent violations, it would also facilitate humanitarian access and free movement by civilians, and try to organize exchanges of prisoners and wounded fighters, with the help of U.N. experts.

The six-year Syrian conflict has killed over 300,000 people and displaced millions, many of them fleeing to Jordan and Turkey and on to Western Europe. Damascus was losing ground to the rebels until Russia entered the conflict a year ago and turned the tide in the government’s favor. (VOA)

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Islamic State imposes New Dress Code for Women

"IS considers anything related to women as tempting for men"

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Veiled Women. (representational Image), Image Source- Wikimedia

Islamic State has imposed new dress codes in areas it controls in Syria, forcing women to wear only black clothes and punishing those who don’t obey, according to residents and activist groups.

For IS, any women’s clothing that is not black is considered seductive.

“They [IS] arrested me because my wife and mother had colorful clothes on,” Abu Hassan, a resident from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, told a Syrian opposition website, All4Syria. He disguised his name for fear of retribution.

Abu Hassan said the women were in their house recently when religious police drove by and noticed their colorful clothing.

“They didn’t release me until I paid the equivalent of one gram of gold,” he told All4Syria on Wednesday.

His story could not be independently verified by VOA; but IS prohibits contact with outsiders in areas it controls.

Since gaining control of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, IS has imposed harsh guidelines on civilians, particularly women.

In addition to penalizing women for the way they dress, IS religious police — also known as al-Hisbah, Arabic for “accountability” — have arrested a number of women for hanging laundry on rooftops.

A woman in veil and a man. Image Source- Wikimedia Commons
A woman in veil and a man. Image Source- Wikimedia Commons

IS “considers anything related to women as tempting for men,” said a resident in the IS de-facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, who insisted on anonymity. He told VOA that in order for his wife and two adult daughters to leave the house, he must accompany them.

He also recalled what happened to his ailing neighbor who let his wife visit her sister in a nearby district with no male escort.

“They gave him 40 lashes in public in addition to several days in prison,” he said.

Related Article: Gurmehar Kaur: A silent voice that speaks volumes

As the U.S.-led international coalition ramped up its bombing campaign against IS positions in Syria and Iraq, IS recently increased its already strict moral codes, local activists say.

“The bombing campaign has affected Daesh [IS] on so many levels,” said Hussam Eisa, a member of “Raqqa is being Slaughtered Silently,” a group that reports on IS abuses in Syria.

Eisa said the U.S.-led coalition, Russian and Syrian government airstrikes against IS have made the group look weak in the eyes in locals. “And therefore, Daesh is desperately taking these measures,” Eisa said, using an Arabic term for IS.

Despite these airstrikes, IS militants have made some advances in government-held areas of oil-rich Deir Ezzor in recent weeks. According to local reports, IS controls much of the area around a military air base that it has besieged for months. (Source: VOA)

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With Russia entering the fold, where is the Syrian crisis headed?

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Vladimir Putin

By Harshmeet Singh

The ongoing Syrian crisis is bringing together two of the most unexpected nations at a single stage, the USA and Russia. While the USA led alliance has been carrying out airstrikes in the IS (Islamic State) captured areas for quite a while, Russia’s entry into the Syrian crisis couldn’t have come any sooner.

Though the recent air strikes carried out by Russia in Syria surprised quite a few, it must be understood that Russia has always had a keen eye on Syria. To put things into perspective, Syria’s Tartus holds the only naval base of Russia outside the countries that formed the Soviet Union. Russia was one of the few countries that supported the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during the deadly civil war in the country. It even used all its force to shoot down a proposal in the UNSC which was seeking to remove Assad from the Presidency. Over the past few years of the Syrian unrest, Russia has been continuously offering financial and military help to the Syrian administration, without getting directly involved in the domestic upheaval.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

But with Russia now sending its troops to Syria, the earlier dynamics seem to have changed. Experts are of the view that Mr. Putin is trying to increase the stature of Russia at the world stage and bring back its old glory. But with the Russian troops short of real war experience for many decades, this move can easily backfire. While at the outset it may seem that both the US and Russia are throwing their weight in Syria to bring back normalcy, the fact remains that US is as big a critic of the Assad regime as big a supporter Assad has in the form of Russia.

Russia’s increased participation in Syria has also invited sharp reactions from many other countries. The US led coalition, for instance, which also includes Turkey, has asked Russia to put an end to its air strikes, alleging that the Russian planes are targeting innocent civilians and that it would “only fuel more extremism”. Russia, on the other hand, says that it is exclusively targeting IS sites. These strikes were Russia’s first active military operation outside the states of former Soviet Union, ever since the cold war ended in 1991.

Several meetings were held between the Russia officials and the leaders of the US led coalition on the sidelines of the 70th United Nations General Assembly. Giving minimal attention to the concerns of the US led coalition, a senior official from the Russian ranks said that the air strikes would continue for another 3-4 months. There is another ongoing conspiracy theory behind the scenes, according to which the Russian planes are exclusively targeting the Syrian rebels who are being supported by the US led alliance to overthrow the Assad regime. Whatever the actual dynamics of the situation be, this habit of world powers of battling against each other at a battleground of the third country only brings destruction to innocent people.

 

The author is a Freelance writer. This piece was exclusively written for NewsGram.