'This is not yet the moment' for tangible peace talks – UN envoy for Syria
The United Nations envoy mediating a resolution to the crisis in Syria said today that the time is not yet right for a resumption of the intra-Syrian talks, but that the intention is to begin an official third round “as soon as possible,” as efforts continue towards the decisive outcome of a political transition.
“We want to do it as soon as possible. No doubt about that,” said Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, during a press briefing in Geneva at the conclusion of a meeting of the humanitarian task force set up by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) – which consists of the UN, the Arab League, the European Union and 18 countries that have been working on a way forward since late last year.
Emphasizing that a third round of talks needs to be “concrete,” he highlighted that he had been told by his predecessors that any action should avoid the situation of “Geneva III,” an earlier series of UN-backed talks which had no concluding points.
Noting that “we want to give maximum chances for a concrete outcome,” Mr. de Mistura said this would signify the beginning of a political transition.
“But in my opinion, based on my assessment, this is not yet the moment,” he added.
He said that preparations were continuing towards that goal, in what he called “technical meetings.” Such meetings would not take place in Geneva, and he would not be directly involved, although members of his team would be moving to various locations in order to have technical discussions with “anyone who has been mentioned” in Security Council resolution 2254, or anyone who was “usefully contributing” to preparing the talks, the Special Envoy said.
Meanwhile, Mr. de Mistura said that the deadline of 1 August set by the ISSG is “attainable.”
“[We] should be aiming at that one because at the end of the day, that's a date which has been put as a target date, but not just for anything but for beginning of a serious concrete message in terms of political transition,” he stressed.
Access to besieged areas
The Special Envoy also said that he had been informed by his team in Damascus that the Government of Syria has approved access to 15 of the 17 besieged areas in the country by the end of the month.
Of the 19 besieged locations, 17 were requested as part of the June plan; written permission has been given for 15 of those 17. Two other besieged locations were not requested as part of that plan, as they are being covered by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) air drops, respectively.
The besieged locations where written approval has not been received are Al Wa'er in Homs and Zabadani in rural Damascus.
“Of course, you know very well that approval, and we know very well, does not mean delivery,” the Special Envoy said, noting that many actions needed to take place between an approval in delivery.
“In the next few hours, we hope to see some of that approval actually become concrete. That is the test, of course, as always,” he added.
Attacks on medical facilities; issue of air drops
The Special Envoy also noted that reports were received that Darayya had been heavily shelled, and said that more information was being sought.
Moreover, he said that reports from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on attacks against three medical facilities – including a paediatric facility – in Aleppo yesterday were “extremely concerning.”
Mr. de Mistura also highlighted that thus far, 270,250 people in besieged areas had been reached.
In addition, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and all partners in Syria, including the Ministry of Health, had helped to push the numbers of children receiving vaccinations to nearly 70 per cent, with more than 900,000 children younger than 5 years old being reached. The special envoy underscored, however, that an equal number of children had not yet been reached.
On the issue of detainees, the Special Envoy said that some information had been received today from a main source that a “substantial number of fighters” appeared to have been released, although details were still forthcoming.
He said he was also informed by Russia that it is ending the demining of about 26 square kilometres of Palmyra, which means that people can start coming back.
“We have information that up to 1,500 people have actually returned and we are obviously looking forward to be able to assist anyone who does return to a place which has been devastated by Da'esh,” Mr. de Mistura said.
On the issue of air drops, he said that an official request had been made to the Government of Syria on 5 June for air bridges, air drops and air lifts, which were each meant to respond in one form or another when land access was not possible.