First Published: 2017-05-17

Syria delegations weigh UN constitution plan in Geneva
Rival Syrian delegations weigh UN proposal on developing new constitution, with tensions high after US accused Assad regime of burning evidence of war crimes.
Middle East Online

UN Deputy Special Envoy for Syria Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy (L) and Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura attend round of talks in Geneva

GENEVA - Rival Syrian delegations on Wednesday weighed a UN proposal on developing a new constitution for the war-ravaged country, as a new round of peace talks entered a second day.

The sixth round of UN-backed negotiations in Geneva is the latest drive to bring a political solution to the conflict which has claimed more than 320,000 lives since 2011.

The talks opened with tensions high over a US charge that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government was using a prison crematorium to hide evidence of thousands of murdered detainees.

Syria's government delegation, led by Bashar al-Jaafari, returned to UN headquarters Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with talks mediator Staffan de Mistura.

They were expected to discuss his proposal to create a "consultative" committee of civil society activists and technocrats tasked with setting a roadmap to a new constitution.

The team would begin work immediately on "specific options for constitutional drafting" in order to "prevent a constitutional or legal vacuum at any point during the political transition process being negotiated," according to a copy of the document seen by AFP correspondents.

Syrian government officials did not respond to requests for comment, but a source close to the delegation confirmed they had received the document.

The opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has said it has "reservations" about the draft, which it are expected to discuss with de Mistura later Wednesday.

An opposition source said that the HNC had submitted a list of questions on the document to the UN, including on what "prerogatives" the new committee would have.

- 'No more committees' -

"This paper was a surprise -- it was not expected in the first place," the HNC's Munzer Makhos said.

"We don't know what the aim is or how it will be implemented. We don't want there to be more committees outside of our control."

The UN-backed talks are expected to focus on four separate "baskets": governance, a new constitution, elections and combating "terrorism" in the war-ravaged country.

While the HNC has insisted on Assad's ouster as part of any political transition, the government sees this demand as a nonstarter.

The back-to-back meetings on Tuesday were brief, in line with de Mistura's pledge to keep the talks "rather business-like, rather short".

Hopes for a breakthrough remain dim, particularly after US claims of new regime atrocities at the notorious Saydnaya prison near Damascus.

Satellite images released by the US State Department appeared to support earlier claims by rights groups that Saydnaya is an execution centre, a claim Damascus rejected.

Relatives of detained Syrians -- some of them imprisoned in Saydanaya -- gathered outside the UN in Geneva Wednesday, carrying portraits of their missing loved ones and tearfully writing their names on long strips of paper.

- 'Different role for Russia' -

The HNC has said Washington's accusations about Saydnaya demand a response from the United States and other friendly nations, but also called on Russia to take action.

"For us, we need to see a different role for Russia -- not only helping Assad commit crimes. We need to see Russia help Syrians decide their fate and their destiny," said HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet.

He told journalists that members of the HNC would meet with Russian officials later in the day.

The UN meanwhile confirmed that de Misura met earlier Wednesday with Russia's deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov. Jaafari met Gatilov in Geneva on Tuesday.

Longtime regime ally Moscow has become a key player in Syria's crisis, launching an air war in support of Assad in 2015 and brokering several agreements aimed at ending the war.

The latest effort is a tripartite agreement between Russia, fellow Assad ally Iran, and rebel backer Turkey to create four "de-escalation" zones across some of Syria's bloodiest battlegrounds.

It was signed on May 4 in the Kazakh capital Astana as part of parallel negotiations.

De Mistura has dismissed suggestions that the Astana talks are competing with the Geneva track, saying they were "working in tandem".

 

US halting support for Syria rebels

US maintains designation of Iran as top 'state sponsor'

More than 330,000 killed in Syria war

Morocco sentences 25 to prison over W. Sahara killings

Foreign food chains hoping for taste of Iran market

Rebel ambush kills 28 regime fighters near Damascus

Turkey slams 'dangerous' Cyprus energy plans

Saudi prince 'arrested over leaked abuse videos'

Israel boosts 'security measures' as Al-Aqsa tensions simmer

Kuwait expels Iranian diplomats over 'terror' cell

Germany vows to overhaul Turkey ties as row escalates

Home cooked meals a relief for fighters in Syria's Raqa

30 civilians dead in anti-IS strikes in Syria

Palestinian civilians urge ICC to speed up probe

Turkey PM opts for stability in light cabinet reshuffle

UN aid flight carrying journalists barred from Yemen

Former IS slaves fight for revenge in Raqa

US, Iran trade tit-for-tat sanctions

20 Yemeni civilians killed in air strike

14 killed in opposition infighting in Syria's Idlib

Egypt police kill top militants

Heavy rainfall hits Istanbul causing transport chaos

Palestinians protest Israeli security measures at Al-Aqsa compound

Saudi police question woman who wore miniskirt

Rebels, US-backed Kurds clash in northern Syria

Netanyahu says Hungary is 'standing up for' Israel

Lebanon army to launch operation near Syria border

Morocco delays currency reform amid speculation

Iran parliament vows to fight US 'adventurism'

4 killed in suicide car bomb at Kurdish checkpoint in Syria

Israel opposes Syria truce deal over Iran presence

Egypt to end visas on arrival for Qatari citizens

Erdogan to visit Qatar, Saudi Arabia

Turkey court refuses to free six rights activists

Trump keeps Iran deal, but sanctions will stay in place

UAE FM warns Qatar is 'undermining' GCC allies

Jordanian soldier gets life sentence for killing 3 US trainers

14 Kuwaiti Shiite fugitives flee to Iran

9 militants killed in Sinai Peninsula

Israel to reopen sensitive Jerusalem holy site

Juncker: Turkey must stick to democratic values to join EU

Old City locked down after Jerusalem attack

Return to Mosul a distant dream for many displaced

Tragic end to Raqa family's hopes of burying loved ones

Germany confirms 2 nationals killed in Egypt