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The New Arab

Syrian regime and Russia crush Geneva peace process

Syrian regime forces backed by Russian airstrikes made key gains north of Aleppo [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 February, 2016

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The Syrian opposition was outraged after Assad's regime secured a major battlefield victory against rebels, prompting the UN peace envoy who hoped for a ceasefire to suspend negotiations.
Russia and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad were able to thwart the Geneva talks aimed at securing peace in Syria before they even began, forcing the UN envoy to announce the suspension of the discussions until 25 February.

Assad's regime secured a major battlefield victory against rebels on Wednesday when its forces and Hizballah-led militias broke a three-year rebel siege of two Shia-majority towns in Aleppo province.

Russia, which backed the regime with relentless airstrikes, also vowed not to stop its raids.

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who hoped for a truce that would ease some tensions and help get peace negotiations off the ground, found all his efforts undermined by the Syrian government's success on the ground and an outraged and reluctant multi-factional opposition.

"I have indicated from the first day I won't talk for the sake of talking," de Mistura said.

"I therefore have taken the decision to bring a temporary pause (until February 25). It is not the end or the failure of the talks."

The announcement came as Syrian troops helped by days of Russian air sorties, cut the last supply route linking rebels in Aleppo to the Turkish border, in a major blow to the opposition.

But more importantly, de Mistura's announcement pre-empted a heavy blow to the negotiations as the opposition delegates were considering a withdrawal from the talks.
as peace talks were due to start in Geneva, a major offensive was happening on the ground

Sources from within the opposition in Geneva told The New Arab that de Mistura had asked them to be patient until after he has held a press conference. At the press conference, the UN envoy postponed the negotiations, effectively exempting any side from being held responsible for the failure of the talks.

The opposition umbrella group High Negotiations Committee (HNC) had demanded a halt to the bombardment of civilians and the release of thousands of prisoners, including children, languishing in the Assad regime's infamous jails.

Instead, as peace talks were due to start in Geneva, a major offensive was happening on the ground.

Aleppo

Assad's forces and their allies encircled Aleppo from the west, south and east, and have advanced from the north since last week. In addition to losing their lifeline from Turkey, which supports Syrian rebels, the opposition forces are now threatened in parts of Aleppo after the army captured the towns of Nabul and Zahraa on Wednesday that they have held for three years.

Hizballah-affiliated al-Manar TV described the regime's encirclement as a major victory for the regime.

This victory means that opposition fighters and civilians would be cut off from the crucial supply route to Turkey and countryside areas, placing up to 400,000 civilians under a de-facto siege.

"The regime forces have done in three days in Aleppo what they had failed to do in three years, thanks mainly to Russian support," said Rami Abdel Rahman of British-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia

The offensive is one of several the government has launched since President Vladimir Putin threw Russia's military might behind Assad, adding to support from Iran, on 30 September.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he saw no reason for the air strikes to stop.

"Russian air strikes will not cease until we truly defeat the terrorist organisations ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra," Russian agencies quoted Lavrov as saying in Oman.

He was referring to the Islamic State group, the extremist outfit which has overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq and claimed bombings and shootings worldwide, and to Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch.

The opposition - and Western countries - says the Russian strikes have almost entirely targeted other rebel groups, many of them backed by the West, Gulf states and Turkey.

The next step is for the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of outside countries to convene, potentially on 11 February in Munich, Germany.

Agencies contributed to this report

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