SAT 15 - 8 - 2020
Date: Jun 28, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
U.N. needs U.S.-Russia help for Syria peace
GENEVA: “A deeper understanding” between Russia and the United States is needed to move the Syrian peace process forward, U.N. Syria envoy Geir Pedersen said in an interview published Thursday.

Successive U.N. envoys have failed to stop Syria’s 8-year-old war, which has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and led to an exodus of refugees.

Pedersen, the fourth man in the job, is trying to arrange a committee to oversee the reform of Syria’s constitution - a modest effort, compared with former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s attempt to reach a peace agreement at an international conference in 2012.

“Obviously, a Constitutional Committee in itself will not change much,” Pedersen said in an interview published by the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. “But if handled correctly, and if there is political will, it could be a door opener for a broader political process.”

He told the key players that he needed “a different international set-up” and wanted to convene a group of influential states alongside the Constitutional Committee meeting.

It would include the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and two groups of countries that have been politically active on Syria: the “Astana Group” comprising Iran and Turkey as well as Russia, and the “Small Group,” which includes Egypt, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain and the United States.

“This is indicative of the fact that we are in a new phase ... this has been going on for too long, and it should be possible to move forward. This would, of course, require a deeper understanding between Russia and the U.S. on how to move forward,” he said. “We are also working on that.”

Pedersen said he had pressed the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the opposition Syrian National Commission on the importance of tackling the issue of people who had been detained or abducted or were missing, and he had appealed to them for “bigger unilateral steps on this.”

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition said Thursday it had unintentionally killed at least 1,319 civilians in strikes during its fight against Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria since 2014. The figure is far lower than the death tolls given by groups that have monitored the conflict in the two countries.

“The coalition conducted 34,514 strikes between August 2014 and the end of May 2019,” it said in a statement. During this period, it “assesses at least 1,319 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes.”

The coalition, which has repeatedly insisted it does all it can to avoid civilian deaths, said it was still assessing 159 additional reports of civilian casualties.

Airwars, an NGO that monitors civilian casualties from airstrikes worldwide, estimates more than 8,000 civilians have been killed in coalition raids. In a report released in late April, Amnesty International and Airwars found that coalition air and artillery strikes killed more than 1,600 civilians just in the four-months blitz to oust Daesh from the Syrian city of Raqqa.

Separately, Syria’s state news agency said a bomb exploded in a car in Damascus, wounding a woman and her son. Activist groups said the victims were the wife and son of pro-government political analyst Taleb Ibrahim.

Ibrahim was not in the car at the time of the blast.

SANA did not identify the two or say how seriously they were hurt in the explosion on Thursday morning.

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