Monday, January 27, 2014

Syrian Government And Opposition In Geneva Have Taken Step Towards Resolving The Humanitarian Crisis

Humanitarian deal reached on war-hit Homs, people return to embattled Aleppo

News | 27.01.2014 | 21:34
As the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva have taken a step towards resolving the humanitarian crisis in besieged Homs, RT visited another major battleground, Aleppo, to see people returning to devastated homes in areas liberated by the army.
The slowly-progressing talks between the Syrian government and the external opposition in Geneva have yielded their first result. The sides have reached an agreement that would see humanitarian aid enter the besieged city of Homs, and would allow women and children to leave its war-ravaged areas.
What makes the deal dubious, however, is that it’s not yet clear how it will be implemented on the ground. Currently, the Syrian government is promising - voiced on Sunday by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad - that women and children can leave Homs safely. Another question is how rebels inside the city besieged by the army will react.
"If the armed terrorists in Homs allow women and children to leave the old city of Homs, we will allow them every access. Not only that, we will provide them with shelter, medicines and all that is needed,” he said, as cited by Reuters. "We are ready to allow any humanitarian aid to enter into the city through the arrangements made with the UN."
Much will now depend on whether the external opposition present in Geneva will be able to influence the rebels in the city of Homs itself. Opposition activists have so far said that rebels have demanded a complete end to the blockade, as opposed to just letting some civilians out. Besides, an online video showed demonstrators with Islamist flags denouncing the Geneva talks as "treachery”.
Homs, a major battleground in the center of Syria, dubbed by the opposition as the "Capital of the Revolution", was largely recaptured by government forces last year. However, parts of army-blockaded Homs, including the old city, remain under rebel control.
Syrian officials have meanwhile said the ceasefire plan for Aleppo, another key war-zone, could be used as a model for other parts of Syria, where the conflict between President Bashar Assad's government and opposition forces has claimed over 100,000 lives.
People have recently started returning to their homes in Aleppo, after government forces recaptured large parts of the town from militants.
RT’s Maria Finoshina has flown on the first civil airplane to land at Aleppo international airport to discover the city slowly rising from the ashes of war.
“This flight means the return of life to this airport – and this area,” Basem Mansour, the director of the airport, said, adding that regular flights were due to start in a month’s time.
From the airport, Finoshina went to a village outside Aleppo, which has just come back under government control. 14 thousand residents fled after the rebels' attack. One third of the population has now returned to discover houses either destroyed or looted.
“It all depends on how lucky you are,” a resident tells RT. “Our home was almost intact, but they stole everything.”
A pregnant woman is optimistic, even though she found her home was completely destroyed.
“We now have nothing,” she says. “But God gave us a baby, and that will give us power to build everything from scratch. We are ready.”
As security is still fragile in the village, the army is patrolling the area, calling on the locals to get involved. The city of Aleppo itself, where the RT crew goes next, looks unexpectedly secure.
“To be honest we are a bit surprised to see what used to be Syria's biggest business center still so vibrant and actually safe,” Finoshina says. “We even took our flak jackets with us expecting to see clashes in the middle of a completely destroyed city... But don't be mistaken. This is the western part of the city. The eastern part - you'd better not to go there as no one can guarantee any security for anybody in that part of the city.”
The eastern part of Aleppo is where moderate Free Syrian Army factions are fighting radical Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups for control, while government forces are in a struggle with them both.
“We – Syrians – are ready to reconcile with each other,” Mohammad Waheed Akkad, the Aleppo governor tells RT. “And Aleppo is a good place to start with, and to give an example to other regions. But these guys – from Nusra front, from Al Qaeda, they don't know what they want, but not peace, for sure.”
Militants still control half of the city as well as a large part of northern Syria. That’s the biggest challenge to the ceasefire plan pushed forward by the Syrian government prior to the Geneva peace conference.
For more on life in Aleppo, watch RT’s Maria Finoshina reporting from the war-torn city.

Bashar al Assad' s Media Adviser is a Woman:Dr. Bouthaina Shabaan

 Syrian people are the only side to determine their interests

Jan 27, 2014

Geneva, (SANA Delegate) – Presidential Political and Media Advisor, Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, said that the Syrian people are the side to determine its interests, not the western countries or their clients in the region.
In a televised interview on Monday, Shaaban said that Syria is ten thousand years-old, and that Syrians know what is good for them, adding "let the Syrian people decide what is good for them, not the western hegemony that dictates to their clients in the region what is good for Syria.”
Shaaban said that during three years of war that caused destruction to much of the infrastructure in Syria, including factories, schools and hospitals, while the opposition is only concerned in talking about power, ignoring the 6 million Syrians displaced inside the country and the 2 million displaced abroad, adding "those who call themselves opposition must talk about Syria and the danger facing the Syrian people."
Shabban stressed that the reason of the events in Syria is that 83 countries are interfering and sending money and foreign terrorists into Syria, not what some sides claim about the authority in Syria.
She called for returning to Geneva1 communiqué that demanded stopping fighting and terrorism and launching a political process in which the Syrians will decide the future of their country.
Answering a question on whether what is happening in Geneva is a polticial process, if there is an international consensus on forming a transitional governing body, and that the so-called “opposition” will not agree on the current government in Syria, Shaaban said “I want to ask the persons in Geneva: who are these persons and whom do they represent? We agreed to sit with them because we thought that other persons will come, as there is a wide spectrum of the Syrian opposition that was not invited. The Question is why? If we are talking about Syria, then why were not all the Syrians invited?”
She stressed that the ballot boxes alone will have the final say on selecting the leadership in Syria, and that the Syrian people should go to ballot boxes and vote for whoever they want to vote for.
On the suitable environment for conducting elections in Syria, Shaaban said that this point has been addressed in Geneva 1, and what is needed is to stop the fighting and create suitable atmospheres, then launch a political process, not jump into this process while the country is on fire.
Regarding efforts for delivering aid to Homs, Shaaban said that it seems that the coalition delegation of the so-called "opposition" has nothing to rely upon; therefore it relies on a very small issue related to humanitarian aid.
"Meanwhile, the Syrian government has a program for all of Syria in cooperation with the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and UN Agencies. Each day, humanitarian aid consisting of food and medicine is delivered to every area in Syria," she said, noting that the coalition delegation is trying to create a measure of credibility by posing the issue of Homs in Geneva.
Shaaban stressed that the important issue for the Syrian official delegation and the 23 million Syrians is resolving the issue of the displaced and rebuilding Syria the way the Syrians want.
"There's one basic difference between us Syrians who are proud of their country and those who want to establish what western forces want in Syria, and that is the essence of the issue," she said.
M. Nassr / H. Sabbagh

UN Special Envoy Brahimi on Monday's Geneva II Talks

Jan 27, 2014

Geneva, (SANA delegate) – UN Envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, stressed that the goal of Geneva 2 conference is ending the war in Syria, building new Syria and enabling the Syrian people to meet their legitimate aspirations by  trying to implement Geneva 1 Communiqué.
 At a press conference, Brahimi pointed out that this issue is not easy due to the standing bifurcations and problems.
He added that ..We discussed in the morning a paper (political Communique) submitted by the Syrian government that included general principles, most of them are included in Geneva 1 Communique; tomorrow we are going to talk about Geneva (conference)  itself and see if we can start discussions.
Brahimi pointed out that the humanitarian issues which were discussed have not witnessed any progress as the government agreed yesterday to allow women and children out of the old city of Homs, but the means to achieve that are still under discussion as it is not easy due to the presence of snipers and  many problems there.

Geneva II: Political Communiqué Presented by Syrian Official Delegation Rejected by "Coalition" in Two Minutes

Jan 27, 2014

Geneva, (SANA delegate) – Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said that the political communiqué presented by the Syrian official delegation contained articles no two Syrians can disagree upon, no matter how much they differ or are far apart or fight among each other, stressing that the rejection by the coalition delegation of so-called "opposition" of national sovereignty, political pluralism, and democracy constitutes blatant rejection of the first Geneva communiqué.
In statements to journalists on Monday, Minister al-Zoubi said that the political communiqué presented by the Syrian Arab Republic delegation does not contain any reference to the presidency or the person of the president at all in any of its articles, noting that the communiqué was distributed in English and Arabic to media outlets who can verify its contents.
He wondered "Can we imagine that there is a Syrian who can disagree with another Syrian on the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic, its territorial integrity, and the unity of its national soil, unless one of those who disagree isn't Syrian, but an Israeli, for example?"
The Minister went on to ask if it's possible to assume that a single Syrian refused to reject and combat terrorism and work to ensure that terrorists aren't armed or provided with safe havens in neighboring countries, asserting that no two Syrians should disagree on these points unless one of them is actually a Saudi, a Turk, a Qatari, an Israeli, or a conspirator against Syria.
Al-Zoubi said he was surprised that any Syrian would refuse to talk about democracy, ballot boxes, public freedom, human rights, political pluralism, and the right to citizenship, noting that if some of the "opposition" forces were supposed to have included these points in their political discourse, adding that these points are already in the current constitution of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as in the previous constitution and in the discourse of national forces and parties in Syria, including national opposition forces.
He stressed that this discourse should be the bare minimum to express the Syrian identity, patriotism and national affiliation, as no Syrian can reject calls for protecting public and private properties and not attacking the Syrian state's infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities and so on.
"What's amazing is that they rejected this communiqué in less than two minutes. All it cost them was that one of them left the room and made a phone call, then came back to whisper in the ear of the one they called "chief negotiator" to say that they reject this statement part and parcel," the Minister said, adding that this shocked the Syrian official delegation.
Al-Zoubi said that if there were points which they could have viewed as contentious, maybe a specific sentence or phrase taken in context or out of context, the least they should have done was to discuss them or even say that they will discuss this issue and return tomorrow to state their opinion, but to reject the communiqué outright in this manner clearly means that the one who actually rejected the communiqué and whom they called is at least Robert Ford, Ahmet Davutoglu, Saud al-Fayssal, or someone like them.
He went on to note that the first Geneva communiqué talks about the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, along with pluralism and other points, adding "it seems that they haven't read it, because when they reject these points, they also reject a main part of the first Geneva communiqué on the basis of which this conference is held."
Al-Zoubi said that the Syrian official delegation is open to discussing any political issue, and that it came with the intent of succeeding in posing formulae, ideas, new methods and an in-depth reading in order to launch the track, saying that the other side doesn't want this track at all.
"They came here, believing and thinking along with their masters, that we will come and become angry, get provoked and withdraw, which didn't happen and we promise them wouldn't happen… in politics, we don't get angry or provoked, therefore we continue to exert efforts and will continue to do so with UN Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and all those we believe we should be in contact with to ensure the success of this conference," he asserted.
The Minister said that according to his personal estimation and political rationalism, he assumes that Brahimi was not pleased, and perhaps even surprised and disappointed, because the communiqué wasn't read or discussed and they didn't take the time to read it, noting that the communiqué came in one page that needs at least five minutes to read casually and half a day at least for an in-depth political reading, yet the rejection came in two minutes.
He concluded by saying that talks were held in the afternoon between Brahimi and each side separately, and that everyone is waiting for their results.
Information Minister : Syria considers all its citizens equal wherever they are
Earlier, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said that in the eyes of the Syrian state, all Syrians are equal wherever they are, stressing that talking about Homs is a humanitarian issue which shouldn't be exploited politically for achieving gains or political victories.
"No-one wants to achieve a political victory using this issue… we won't allow others to imagine that they're achieving this, and this issue is outside political calculations, investments and discussions, and we will continue to say this," al-Zoubi told reporters on Monday.
"There are civilians in the old city in Homs which they are talking about, regardless of the disparate estimations of their numbers. Those could leave the area, and the state will provide them with all services all the time," he said, noting that it's not the first or the last time that the state provides humanitarian support in compliance with the response plan between the Syrian government and UN organizations.
He clarified that the response plan isn't a recent thing that is implemented or begins today; rather it began a long time ago and is being implemented literally and systematically all over the country, pointing out that there are areas in need for humanitarian support including Homs, Maaloula, Nebbel, al-Zahraa, and Adra, among other areas across Syria, adding "all areas in Syria are, in the end, part of our country and people, regardless of any consideration."
The Minister stressed that nobody should think that what is going on in Homs is associated to what has been discussed in Geneva Conference.
He noted that a month ago, 800 Syrian citizens were evacuated from al-Zara area where gunmen had been holding them hostage, with the state providing them with shelter, food and medical services, adding that there are people besieged in Maaloula and Adra, in addition to Nebbel and al-Zahraa which have been blockaded for two years.
Al-Zoubi pointed out that the Syrian government is providing aid to areas via dignitaries, selectmen and civil committees, stressing that work for providing aid to the old city in Homs is underway with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, reiterating that this process is independent form discussions in Geneva.
"All that some are trying to market through mass media that an achievement was made by the coalition members regarding this issue is baseless, because preparations were made in advance and work was underway," he added.
The Minister said that there are efforts being exerted in Damascus with the UN through the Syrian government to address all blockaded areas and help or evacuate civilians, adding "all talk outside this context is morally, humanely and patriotically reprehensible… Not a single patriotic Syrian, regardless of the opposition group they belong to, has the right to talk about those people as number and try to make political investments from their suffering."
On the coalition delegation's claims that they have lists of children detained in Syrian prisons, al-Zoubi said that these claims were made on Sunday evening during the session, yet they failed to present any lists or names, and if they can't provide them in closed session, then they will certainly say that they can't present them to the media because these claims are baseless, stressing that the state does not arrest children nor women, unless the woman in question transported weapons or was complicit in killing.
"We don't arrest children, even the children which armed groups recruit for their battles… when the authorities apprehend them, they are treated as children, not as combatants or arrestees or detainees; rather we take their age into consideration as well as the moral and psychological influences they were subjected to," he said, asserting that there are specific state establishments which deal with such issues and lies regarding this matter must cease immediately.
On prospects of beginning discussion of the political process today, the Minister said that the meeting is underway and the details will be discussed later, stressing that the Syrian official delegation in Geneva will continue to act according to its patriotism, its faith in Syria, and according to the directives of President Bashar al-Assad which affirm the need to stem bloodshed, defending national and pan-Arab standards, and preserving Syria's Arabism, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Al-Zoubi noted that there are many lies and allegations by mass media outlets which falsify what the Syrian official delegation says, yet the delegation members remain optimist, serious and determined.
On alleged side meetings between the Syrian official delegation, the coalition delegation and western delegations, the Minister said that talking about such things to the media isn't possible, but the goal of being at the conference is to meet with the coalition delegation according to set procedures and rules and to work towards progress in any direction.

Iranian President Rohani: "Expelling Terrorists from Syria is First Step Towards Solving the Crisis"

Regional and International News>>Rohani: Expelling terrorists from Syria is First step towards solving the crisis
Rohani: Expelling terrorists from Syria is First step towards solving the crisis 
Jan 26, 2014

Tehran, (SANA) - Iranian President Hassan Rohani affirmed that the first step to solve the crisis in Syria lies in expelling terrorists, pointing out that the countries which support terrorism are committing big mistake that will be turned against them.
President Rohani told American CNN TV in an interview on the sideline of the World Economic Forum of Davos in Switzerland , that terrorism poses a dangerous threat to the whole area, voicing his regret over the support of a number of countries to the terrorist groups.
"All, even the western countries, know that the most dangerous terrorist groups are existing in Syria now," the Iranian President added.
He called for halting the war on Syria and expelling terrorists from it.
President Rohani pointed out that the crisis in Syria would be solved through election, adding that the what the Syrian people say should be acceptable for all countries.
B. Mousa/ Mazen

Can „Women lead to Peace“? A Critical View On The Geneva II Talks on Syria and Beyond

Report from the sideshow in Montreux and Geneva January 20-24th 2014 from Irene Eckert

Women with white roses at an installation of tombstones marked with '100,000 lives lost in Syria' against the backdrop of snow-topped Swiss Alps rising starkly over Lake Geneva
Nobel prize winners and peace activists from Syria and around the world.  Oxfam activity Photo: Maria Christina Travaglio/Les Studios Casagrande

It goes without saying: Women are good mediators, women have played major roles in peacemaking. Since the Austrian Baroness Bertha von Suttner had demanded „ Lay Down your Arms “ and since she had won the first Nobel Price for Peace, a considerable number of women have followed her on that road.

After three years of barbaric bloodshed in Syria the possibility for stopping this inhuman madness is on the horizon. Under UN auspices 40 countries were called to assist the peace process in the proxy war fuelled in the aftermath of the 'Arab Spring'. 10 were called to come on a last minute notice.  Civil society has been confused about what was going in the Levante due to a massive propagandafire that accompanied the fighting on the ground. In consequence solidarity with the Syrian people has been unfortunatelly restrained.

The date for Geneva II peace talks was postponed many times and when mentioned at all in world media it was about inviting or disinviting Iran or about the alleged condition layed down in the Geneva I protocol, demanding that President Assad had to step down first if peace was to be and the country saved from disintegration.

Apart from some governments, 'UN WOMEN'* seemed to be the only prominent voice encouraging the Geneva II conference by saying „We share the hopes of the Syrian people that Geneva II will be a serious step towards ending the violence and bloodshed.“ In their statement from January 13th 'UN WOMEN' called for a ceasefire, the participation of neighboring states and the lifting of economic sanctions on Syria.

For a pre-conference gathering 60 women from all corners of the world had come to Switzerland. Among them two Nobel Peace Price laureates, Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland 1976) and Shirin Ebadi (Iran 2003). Together with other prominent and less prominent women, they have been invited by „Codepink“(USA), „Madre“(USA) and „WILPF“ (international). These women's associations want to make a contribution to promoting peace in Syria by calling for a ceasefire and for a stronger representation of women at the conference table.

What might have been underestimated during an intense week of seminars, discussions and spectacular outdoor activities to catch media attention was the fact that women are participating in the diplomatic procedures and some even play a very prominent role in it, but in conflicting parties.

On the side of the Syrian government there is  Dr. Bouthaina Shabaan, senior political and  media adviser of Dr. Assad. Shabaan gave CNN News a remarkable interview on Saturday night, January 25th. ** On the opposite side the „Syrian National Council“ just appointed 26 year old Noura Al Amir as vicepresident, whose mandate is,  to force the Syrian government to step down. She attracted media attention by vociferously calling Bashar Al Assad „a criminal of war“ while  protesting against the talks on UN Plaza on Friday, January 24th.

This is to show how antagonistic women's positionings can be. And this fact was reflected in the non-governmental meetings, too.

Law professor Shirin Ebadi, a strong advocate of human rights in Iran, argues on the same line with her Syrian „sister“ Al Amir, when accusing the present head of the Syrian goverment as „main obstacle to peace“. While living in the US she accuses the Iranians as „the only foreign government that militarily interferes in Syria.“ Her poem, dedicated to the soldier, fallen on Syrian ground, was unanimously applauded. As Women we react spontaneously and emotionally when it comes to human rights violations and when we commemorate sons and partners who  are losing  their lives as soldiers on the battleground.

So while insisting that „Women lead to Peace“,   we tend to forget that emotions can be misled if not adequately accompagnied by a sound analyes of the root causes of a given conflict. As women alone, even if representing more than half of the world's population, we can not overcome the antagonisms expressed above. These  antagonisms that  lie at the bottom of  conflict must be addressed, must be dealt with.

The women's assembly in Geneva and their spectacular presentations in the streets of Montreux, designed by 'Codepink' had brought together women from various conflict zones in the world, such as Bosnia-Herzegowina, Sri Lanka, Sahara, Columbia, Northern Ireland and more. They all wanted to set an example for the Syrian women, to offer their experience in conflict solving.

Mairead Maguire and her collegue insisted that women had played an important role in the peace process in Northern Ireland, putting aside their more specific needs. „Peace is a human right“ said Maguire and „the Syrian people must decide for themselves who should govern them“ and she added, „without foreign interference“.

Syrian women were present, too. They had come from inside Syria and from abroad, voicing oppositional views on the deplorable situation on the ground. Among them  were those, who had come to attack the Assad government for the present situation, entertaining even a propaganda radio program abroad to that purpose.

There were other oppositional representatives who were supporting  Mouna Ghanem, an ex-Syrian UN-worker. Her group  presented a „Syrian Women's Charter for Peace“ emphasising the unity of the country, rejecting foreign intervention, calling for an end to the economic strangeling of their country and insisting that women from inside Syria should play a more important role. Their proposals for rebuilding the country are concrete and constructive.

There were other Syrian women,  among them Swiss residents, professionals, insisting on the great role Syrian women used to play throughout history up to the breakout of the violence in 2011. They demanded "Foreigners out - Syrians in". Iman Lauraux from Geneva  said „Syrian women were queens and goddesses“ before the conflict was instigated from abroad three years ago. Proud women like herself do not want to be suppressed in Saudi Arabian style. It was also pointed out that foreign funding of hundreds of extremist islamist groups was a fact well documented,  and that it must be denounced.„Food of Peace“ was one of the ideas they foster in order to contribute to establish a dialogue among opponents.

Their were prominent women like Ex-EU-Parliament President Luisa Morgantini, also engaged in the Palestinan Cause, Heike Haensel, a peace activist and a Parliamentarian from Germany who had worked hard with her government to try and get women like Mouna Ghanem inlcuded in the oppositional Syrian delegation. There was Marie Dennis from Pax Christi headquarters in Belgium or US-veteran and ex-diplomat Ann Wright, who all voiced their strong sentiments to see the conflict in Syria ended on peaceful terms. There were Wilpfers young and old. The youngers more into Gender-Equality and problemsolving through UNSCR 1325 and the older pointing out to the need of awareness raising through studying the root causes of war and conflict as their ancestors had proposed when they founded the organisation almost one hundred years ago in the midst of World War I.

Most of us agreed that a deep breath and a lot of patience is needed if peace is to be established in Syria and in the Middle East, as all these countries and conflict zones are interrelated. And now with media attention gone,  real negotiations seem to be under way and they  seem to include Iran in one way or the other.

As peaceworkers we must carry Geneva back home and continue our support for a diplomatic solution.
* UN-WOMEN is a newly created UN agency for the advancement of women. It brings together the earlier existing programms and wants to further capacity building among women