Voices From Syria
On January 17th, 2014 the United Nations had the first opportunity to listen to accounts from Syrians who were survivors of UN documented massacres that occurred on August 2012 in Darayya and August 2013 in Ghouta. These brave individuals were able to share the reality of their experience in a way that the UN delegates on the committee could not have extrapolated from a report. The accounts of these brave people who traveled from Syria is a testimony not just to their personal experiences, but to the experiences of Syrians throughout Syria.
It is because of the millions of stories like those heard in this video or seen in the picture gallery that it is critical that the Syrian Opposition Coalition go to the Geneva-2 conference. This conference, although certainly difficult, will be a beginning process to find a political settlement to the “hierarchy of horribles” that the Assad Regime has perpetrated upon the People of Syria.
National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition Votes Yes to Geneva2
After discussions this week in Istanbul, the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition made the brave decision to participate in the Geneva-2 conference in Switzerland which will open on January 22nd. The resolution to attend the Geneva-2 conference was voted on by 73 members (58 approved, 14 refused, 2 abstained, and one submitted a blank card).
The spokesman for the National Coalition Khaled Saleh clarified the conditions established by the coalition to participate in the Geneva-2 conference. “The goal of any political solution is the formation of a transitional government … is not President Assad part in, and enjoy the full powers It costs the organization of transparent elections.” Translated: it is the National Coalition’s expectation that Geneva-2 will end with the goal of a transitional government that does not include President Assad, and that they [People of Syria] should be able to enjoy transparent elections at all costs.
According to Secretary John Kerry, the diplomatic solution in Syria is meant to establish a transitional governing body formed by mutual consent [between the National Coalition and the Assad Regime], “exercising full executive powers over all government institutions.” The transitional governing body will also “be charged with establishing a national dialogue, reviewing the constitutional order and legal system, and preparing for and conducting free and fair elections.”
What Does Assad Have To Say?
On January 13th, following a meeting of the Friends of Syria, Syrian News ALALAM quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying, “Any person who seeks preconditions or mistakes dreams for reality is leading for the failure of the Geneva conference before it even starts. Syria pays no attention to those outside the country who speak in the name of the Syrian people, whether they are Arabs or Westerners.” The Syrian Government refers to the Friends of Syria as the “Enemies of Syria.”
On January 18th, Secretary Kerry stated, “for anyone seeking to rewrite this history or to muddy the waters, let me state one more time what Geneva II is about: It is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition government body – governing body with full executive powers established by mutual consent. That process – it is the only way to bring about an end to the civil war that has triggered one of the planet’s most severe humanitarian disasters and which has created the seeding grounds for extremism.”
The Impact Of War
The United Nations estimates that more than 130,000 people have been killed since the unrest and violence began almost 3 years ago (March 11, 2011). The number of civilians fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in neighboring countries has increased sharply as violence has escalated. More than 2.2 million people affected by the conflict are now refugees in neighboring countries, while in Syria an additional 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria and 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The UN Security Council has condemned the Assad regime’s denial of humanitarian relief access to these civilians in need and urged immediate steps to facilitate the expansion of humanitarian relief operations throughout the country.
According to Secretary Kerry, “simultaneous U.S. diplomatic efforts are helping coordinate the provision of assistance with other partners and allies in support of the Syrian opposition. Diplomatic efforts also seek to further isolate the regime, both politically and through comprehensive sanctions; to support the Syrian people’s calls for an end of Assad’s rule; and to reinforce the Syrian opposition’s vision of a democratic post-Assad Syria.”
US Transition Assistance To The Syrian Opposition
According to the US State Department, the United States is working in partnership with the international community to assist the Syrian opposition meet their daily needs, provide essential services, and support transition assistance.
The US is providing approximately $260 million in non-lethal transition assistance to the moderate opposition. This assistance includes a $15 million contribution to the multi-donor Syria Recovery Trust Fund. This purpose of the trust fund is to unite and coordinate international donors to help with Syria’s current reconstruction and economic needs in liberated areas and the formation of a Transitional Governing Body.
The funding is specifically targeted for a broad range of activities and services that are designed to strengthen the Syrian Coalitions institutional capacity, counter extremism, and improve the ability to deliver basic goods and essential services to liberated communities throughout Syria.
Activities will specifically target community and grassroots activist (including women and youth), and over 100 opposition councils inside Syria, as well as, organizations outside of Syria. This support enhances the linkages between Syrian activists, human rights organizations, and independent media outlets and empowers women leaders to play a more active role in transition planning.
Other critical supplies provided through this assistance include educational kits, winterization materials and commodity baskets for needy families. These efforts help the national-level opposition groups provide for the needs of local communities.
The US State Department says, “in addition to transition assistance, the U.S. has been increasing direct non-lethal assistance to the Syria Media Center since the spring of 2013 along supply lines periodically contested by the regime or extremist fighters. To date, this includes over 408,000 halal food rations, vehicles and over three tons of medical supplies, as well as, planned deliveries of satellite access equipment, laptops, radio communication equipment, and medical kits to moderate SMC elements.”
What Is Russia Up To?
Russia has worked closely with Secretary Kerry to bring the Syrian Government to the table for the Geneva-2 talks. In addition, the Syrian Government purportedly met with the Russian Foreign Minister last week with a plan to implement a cease fire in Aleppo prior to Geneva-2. Additionally, there was talk of how to improve delivery of humanitarian aid to areas currently under siege.
As reported by Reuters, Assad has “Since December received deliveries of weaponry and other military supplies, including unmanned spy drones known as UAVs, which have been arranged by Russia either directly or via proxies. Dozens of Antonov 124s (Russian transport planes) have been bringing in armored vehicles, surveillance equipment, radars, electronic warfare systems, spare parts for helicopters, and various weapons including guided bombs for planes.” Reuters also reported that “Russian advisers and intelligence experts have been running observation UAVs around the clock to help Syrian forces track rebel positions, analyze their capabilities, and carry out precision artillery and air force strikes against them,” although they said their source declined to be identified.
Russia has said it doesn’t “violate any international laws by supplying Syria’s military” with weapons and other military gadgets. The Russians have said numerous times they do not sell Damascus “offensive weapons.” Syrian officials could not be reached for comment.
Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she discussed the Reuters report with Secretary of State John Kerry earlier on Friday. She said, “His view is that if these reports are true that would certainly raise great concerns about the role that Russia is playing in continuing to enable the Assad regime of brutalizing the Syrian people,” said Psaki, adding: “We don’t have independent confirmation of the reports.”