Syrian civilians are seen in Babila town, southeast of Damascus yesterday, after a local ceasefire agreement was reached between the opposition and regime forces.
Jakarta/Damascuss: US Secretary of State John Kerry slammed Russia yesterday for “enabling” Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad to stay in power in the war-torn country, after Geneva peace talks broke off without result at the weekend.
The so-called Geneva II process was initiated by the United States, which backs the Syrian opposition coalition, and Moscow, which supports the government in Damascus. But a second round of talks aimed at finding a political settlement to the three-year conflict ended in acrimony on Saturday, throwing the future of the negotiations into doubt.
Yesterday, Kerry took aim at Russia, whom the US has previously accused of not doing enough to push its ally to engage in the talks. The Syrian regime “stonewalled” at the Geneva talks and continued to “destroy their own country”, Kerry told reporters during a visit to the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
“And I regret to say they’re doing so with increased support from Iran, from Hezbollah and from Russia,” he said.
“Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be distributing so much more weapons and so much more aid that they’re in fact enabling Assad to double-down. Which is creating an enormous problem.” Kerry noted that Russia “has stood up publicly with me on several occasions and said they’re committed to that transition government... yet we have not seen the kind of effort to create the dynamic by which that can be achieved”.
No date was set for third round of talks and it was unclear whether any would be held.
The UN’s Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi noted at the weekend that the two sides had at least finally agreed on an agenda for possible future talks.
The opposition says the focus must be on creating a transitional government — without Assad.
The regime representatives have insisted Assad’s position is non-negotiable, and refused to discuss anything beyond the “terrorism” it blames on its opponents and their foreign backers.
At the weekend, Kerry blamed the Syrian regime’s “obstruction” for the breakdown at the talks.
Yesterday, he also lashed out at Syria again, saying the regime “refused to open up one moment of discussion legitimately about a transitional government”.
Meanwhile, the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) has sacked its leader after he fell out with the Saudi-supported head of the moderate opposition to President Bashar Al Assad, opposition sources said yesterday.
General Selim Idriss, whose relations with Saudi Arabia deteriorated, was replaced by Brigadier General Abdelilah Al Bashir, head of FSA operations in Qunaitera province bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the sources said.
Bashir assumes leadership of a force trying to regain the initiative from rival and better organised Islamist groups that have overshadowed it in fighting against Assad.
A statement signed by 22 of the FSA’s 30-member Supreme Military Council said the decision was prompted by “the ineffectiveness of the command in the past few months... and to provide leadership for military operations against the criminal regime and its allies from terrorist organisations.”
A statement by the opposition National Coalition, which includes 15 members of the FSA, said news of Bashir’s appointment came as a “relief”.
Ahmad Jarba, a tribal figure close to Saudi Arabia, became president of the coalition last July after an expansion last year.
“Idriss appears to have gotten too close to the Qataris, prompting Jarba to move against him,” one of the opposition sources said.
The coalition’s delegation added several FSA commanders to its negotiating team in the second round of peace talks, which concluded on the weekend without any significant results.
The announcement to remove Idriss, who had served in the Corps of Engineers of Assad’s army, was made on Sunday after a Supreme Military Council meeting in Turkey attended by Asaad Mustafa, defence minister in a provisional government set up by the opposition last year, the sources said.
Mustafa, whose relations with Idriss have been tense, indicated last week to members of the provisional government that he intended to resign. He changed his mind after receiving political backing from Jarba, an official in the opposition government said.
Idriss was visiting the United Arab Emirates when he learned of his sacking, the sources said. He still has supporters in the FSA’s Supreme Military Council and could try to contest the decision with their help.