Syria: Looking towards Geneva2 – The Pre-Game Show

John Kerry Meets With Sergei Lavrov

On January 13th, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Envoy Lakdar Brahmi. It is notably clear that there was not a participant from the Syrian Coalition who is the recognized representative of the People of Syria. However, Secretary Kerry did say that he would be meeting with President Jarba to follow-up.

According to the US State Department release, there were discussions about cease fires, humanitarian aid corridors, terrorism, prisoner exchanges and Geneva2, which has been set for January 22, 2014.

Localized Ceasefire – Keywords (possibility, trying, maybe, if)

Secretary Kerry talked about “the possibility of trying to encourage a ceasefire. Maybe a localized cease fire beginning in Aleppo.” He went on to say that “both of us (Russia and the US) agreed to try to work to see if that could be achieved.” Kerry confirmed that the Syrian Coalition has agreed that if the Assad regime is willing to declare a cease fire, so would the opposition.

Humanitarian Corridors

On January 14th, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that “Damascus (Assad) had also shown a willingness to open up humanitarian corridors to besieged areas.” He went on to say, “We are working to expand humanitarian access to the areas that are currently blocked by both the government and the opposition.”

According to the State Department release, Lavrov specifically mentioned opening up Humanitarian Aid access to Damascus suburbs including East Ghouta. At East Ghouta, 160,000 Syrians are under siege, according to the UN and it is the site where over 1,400 Syrians were chemically attacked on August 21st, 2013.

Lavrov also indicated the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk would receive humanitarian cargo. This is the same Palestinian camp that the Syrian regime has intentionally isolated for more than six months because they believed FSA was using the camp as a base. The World Food Program says, “We have not been in Yarmouk camp for more than 8 months.”

On January 13th, the Assad regime gave UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, to take a humanitarian aid convoy into the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus where about 20,000 people are trapped, including women and children. Instead of allowing UNRWA to travel through to the northern entrance to the camp which was preferable, Assad insisted that UNRWA travel through the southern entrance where heavy fighting is taking place between the opposition and al-Qaeda groups. Although UNRWA made a gallant attempt and put their personnel at severe risk, they were forced to turn back.

Syria Starvation Then and Now

According to Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, “The relief convoy which tried to get in to Yarmouk was an UNRWA convoy led by UNRWA staff and carrying humanitarian supplies loaded from UNRWA’s central warehouse in Damascus – six small trucks with food for 6,000 people along with 10,000 doses of polio vaccine and some medical supplies. When Syrian authorities gave UNRWA clearance to proceed to deliver assistance to Yarmouk, they required UNRWA to use the southern entrance to Yarmouk. This meant the convoy had to drive some 20 kilometers through an area of intense and frequent armed conflict, in which numerous armed opposition groups, including some of the most extreme jihadist groups, have a strong and active presence. Citing security concerns, Syrian authorities did not give UNRWA permission to use the northern entrance to Yarmouk which is under government control, and which is generally regarded as more likely to be accessible with relatively less risk. This is an extremely disappointing setback for the residents of Yarmouk who continue to live in inhumanely wretched conditions. UNRWA remains undaunted by this frustrating failure and is already pressing Syrian authorities to support a further attempt to deliver humanitarian assistance to Yarmouk.”

On January 14th, Kuwait hosted the Second International Pledging Conference for Syria. A total of $400 million was raised at the conference. Kuwait’s International Islamic Charitable Organization said Kuwaiti charities pledged $142 million. The pledge dollars raised will be allocated to serve both Syrians displaced in-country and those that are refugees in a neighboring country.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced “the United States will provide $380 million in additional U.S. humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the war in Syria. With this additional funding, the United States’ humanitarian assistance since the crisis began is more than $1.7 billion to help those suffering inside Syria, as well as refugees and host communities in the neighboring countries.”

On December 16, 2013, the United Nations released the largest combined humanitarian appeal in its history, calling for $6.5 billion through the end of 2014 to provide food, water, medical care, and shelter to those affected by the crisis in Syria and refugees and host communities in the region. With today’s announcement, the United States continues its enduring commitment to provide urgent help for the children, women and men affected by Syria’s humanitarian crisis.

According to Aljazeera, the first donors’ conference in Kuwait last January resulted in $1.5 billion pledged, with 75% delivered.

NGO’s are reporting there are 10.5 million Syrians facing food insecurity within Syria’s borders. Additionally, there are an estimated one million children under five who suffer from acute or severe malnutrition, approximately half the population has no access to adequate water sources or sanitation facilities, and 8.6 million have insufficient access to health care.

Game Changers: Iran, Terrorism And The Islamic Front?

In discussions regarding Iran, the State Department Release clearly shows that there is some difference of opinion of what it would take for Iran to make it to the Geneve2 table. However, the UN Envoy confirmed that an invitation had been sent to Iran. Secretary Kerry, “made it clear” Iran’s acceptance to the UN and the convening counties (US and Russia) must accompany a “simple statement of their support for the concept of mutual consent with respect to the outcome of this conference.” Translated: “Iran must accept the terms of Geneva1.”

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov introduced the discussion of terrorism in Syria. He said, “There are many terrorists in Syria and they are becoming more numerous. Jabhat al-Nusrah, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, aka ISIL) is acting there. The Islamic Front is also active there, and has been formed recently, and the militants are circulating from one group to another depending on who pays most. There are many foreign mercenaries there. By the way, I’ve had a glance at the charter of the Islamic Front. It urges the jihadists to come to Syria and be recruited into the ranks of this organization …”

In reviewing the Charter of the Islamic Front, translated by the Carnegie Endowment, there is not a reference to inviting “foreign jihadist to come to Syria.” What the Islamic Front Charter does say to its’ credit is:

  • Appealing to all Islamic brigades to join the Front and participate in decision-making and defining the future of Syria;
  • Cooperation and coordination with all forces working on the ground to topple the regime;
  • [There shall be no] fanaticism or closed-mindedness in favor of a single view.
  • There is evidence however, that the Assad Regime is responsible for the insurgence of al-Qaeda in Syria, particularly ISIL. On February 13th, ISIS detonated a car bomb in Ramallah Hamda in the Idlib Province which was a terrorist act that resulted in death, injury and terror.

    Syria RamallahHamda Idlib ISIS 3 Syria RamallahHamda Idlib ISIS 6 Syria RamallahHamda Idlib ISIS 9

    PHOTO COLLAGE Ramallah Hamda, Syria

    In addition to the car bombing, the Local Coordination Committee also reported an attack by the Syrian Regime using barrel bombs “weaponized with chemical agents” that killed and injured many others in the southwest Damascus suburb of Daraya, which is the same area as Ghouta where the prior Chemical Attack took place. It was reported that the chemicals were dropped within barrel bombs that exploded in an area where civilians were present. Required documentation was collected and submitted to the United Nations for evaluation.

    Victims At Hospital After Weaponized Chemical Attack By Assad

    The Syrian Coalition has predicated their attendance at Geneva2 based on a specific set of demands that they have outlined for the International Community. According to Louay Safi, spokesman for the Syrian Coalition, “The invitations sent by the UN purportedly convey a very clear message, that the formation of this body is one of the top priorities of Geneva II. This undoubtedly indicates that the approval of any country to attend the conference, including the Assad regime, means they agree to the formation of a transitional governing body.” Safi was very clear that “Iran cannot attend the conference if it does not withdraw their militias from Syria and acknowledge all the terms of Geneva I.” (Source: Syrian Coalition)

    BBC Documentary about Revolutionary Guard fighting in Syria (Verified)

    Iran Finally Admits They Have Revolutionary Guard On The Ground In Syria

    Secretary John Kerry expressed that he is confident the Syria Coalition will attend the Geneva2 conference. He said that they just “need some space to work on it.” The Coalition will want to see how the chips are falling with who is attending, however, since this conference is primarily to begin a power shift to them, it would be almost if not impossible to do that without them at the table.

    Regardless of any other players who come to the table with an agenda, the Syria Coalition must be at the table with their mission and vision in hand willing to negotiate in good faith. Syria must not end up being another unending war or another Palestinian – Israel situation.

    Kimberly Jones is a global nomad with a special interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled throughout the MENA growing deeply attached to the people and the culture.