Qatar: Syria strikes could ‘torpedo’ truce

Children walk in the rain in the rebel held area of Aleppo's Seif al-Dawla district, Syria March 28, 2016.

Children walk in the rain in the rebel held area of Aleppo’s Seif al-Dawla district, Syria March 28, 2016.

Qatar warned Saturday that Syrian regime airstrikes that killed more than 30 people including children in a rebel-held town near Damascus could “torpedo” a fragile ceasefire in the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported that 33 people, including 12 children, died in airstrikes Thursday on Deir al-Assafir, a town in the opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta.

“Qatar expresses its strong condemnation and concern over the massacre by Syrian regime forces targeting civilians in Deir al-Assafir… in a violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement and related UN Security Council resolutions,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Eastern Ghouta is among the areas in Syria where a fragile ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia has been in place since Feb. 27.

“This criminal shelling… reflects the regime’s policy in killing civilians… and threatens to torpedo” the ceasefire and “international efforts to reach a political solution” to end the country’s five-year war, said the statement, carried by the official Qatar News Agency.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia support Syrian rebels fighting the Russian- and Iranian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States said Thursday it was “appalled” by the Syrian government airstrikes and France accused Assad’s regime of violating the ceasefire and trying to undermine efforts by the international community to resolve the conflict.

Qatar urged the Security Council to “assume its responsibilities to end these crimes, protect the Syrian people, and prevent (attempts to) undermine chances of reaching a political settlement to the Syrian crisis.”

UN-led talks on a peace deal are deadlocked over the fate of Assad, whom the opposition insists must leave power before a transitional government is agreed.

Syrian opposition not optimistic

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition is not optimistic about upcoming peace talks in Geneva because there is no international will for a political transition, opposition member Riad Hijab told Al Araby Al Jadid television late on Friday.

The Syrian opposition has consistently said that it wants a halt in attacks on civilians and for the Geneva talks to result in a transitional governing body for Syria that does not include President Assad.

“There is no international will, especially from the US side, and I do not expect anything to come of the negotiations,” said Hijab, the coordinator for the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), the main opposition bloc.

The HNC will attend the next round of talks, scheduled to start around April 9 in Geneva, Hijab said, but “I will be clear to our people: we have no optimism concerning the negotiations process.”

Assad has said he thinks the Geneva talks can produce a new Syrian government that includes opposition, independents and loyalists, but has explicitly rejected the idea of a transitional authority.

Russia and the United States disagree on Assad’s future but have jointly pressed the Syrian government and the opposition to attend the indirect peace talks in Geneva, which are being mediated by a United Nations envoy.

“We are not afraid of the U.S.-Russian rapprochement,” Hijab said. “But we fear the secrecy, the lack of clarity and lack of transparency.

“We do not know what has been agreed … what is happening in Syria is a proxy war.”

A fragile “cessation of hostilities” truce has held in Syria for over a month between government forces and their opponents. The truce excludes ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

Air and land attacks by Syrian and allied forces continue in parts of Syria where the government says ISIS and Nusra Front are present.

Syrian government forces with Russian air support took back the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra last weekend from Islamic State militants who captured it last May


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