Syria Peace Talk Measure Disrupted

Syria Peace Talk Measure DisruptedSyria Peace Talk Measure Disrupted

A UN-brokered deal to evacuate more than 2,000 self-styled Islamic State terrorists and other militants from rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Saturday has been delayed after the killing of an insurgent leader, an organization that monitors the Syrian war said.

The United Nations said it aimed to convene peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 25 to try to end nearly five years of civil war and it appealed to the warring parties not to allow events on the ground to derail the process, Reuters reported.

Buses were due to transport the fighters to Raqqa, the de facto IS capital in northern Syria, Lebanese Hezbollah’s Manar TV station said. But it fell through after the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group’s leader Zahran Alloush—through whose territory the convoy had been granted safe passage—was killed in an airstrike on Friday, Manar said.

The arrangement was the first of its kind between Syrian authorities and the IS terrorist. It would have marked a significant success for the government of President Bashar al-Assad, increasing its chances of reasserting control over a strategic area 4 km south of the center of the capital.

It was unclear when, and if at all, the evacuation would take place. The delay deals a blow to UN efforts to end a years-long government siege of parts of the city controlled by a patchwork of rebel groups that has impeded the flow of food and humanitarian aid, starving many people to death.

The United Nations and foreign governments have stepped up efforts to broker local ceasefires and safe-passage agreements toward a wider goal of ending the civil war, in which more than 250,000 people have been killed and about 4.3 million Syrians have fled their country.

 “Baghdadi Message”

The UN Security Council on Dec. 18 unanimously approved a resolution endorsing an international roadmap for a Syrian peace process, a rare show of consensus among major powers.

UN Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura, announcing the planned date of the peace talks in Geneva next month, said in a statement on Saturday that he aimed to convene representatives of the Syrian government and “the broadest possible spectrum of the Syrian opposition and others”.

“He counts on full cooperation of all the relevant Syrian parties in this process. Continuing developments on the ground should not be allowed to derail it,” the statement said.

The IS terrorists have come under intensifying military pressure in recent weeks, but a new message purporting to come from its leader said airstrikes by Russia and a US-led coalition had failed to weaken it.

“Be confident that God will grant victory to those who worship him and hear the good news that our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets,” said the audio recording, described as being by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

It slammed Saudi Arabia’s efforts to set up a coalition of Muslim nations to fight his group.

The authenticity of the message, posted on Saturday on Twitter accounts that have published IS statements in the past, could not be verified. The last such online public message said to be by Baghdadi was posted in May and he has been reported injured or killed several times in fighting.