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Syria talks falter, Assad backs US travel ban

February 16, 2017

An Iranian delegate to Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan has blamed rebels for the delay in reaching a deal. At the same time, Syrian President Assad gave his support to US President Trump's attempted travel ban.

Syrien Damaskus Stadtansicht
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/H. Ammar

Representatives from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with rebel groups in the Kazakh capital of Astana on Thursday as the fragile Syrian ceasefire looked to move closer to the brink of collapse. They were joined by officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The Iranian delegate blamed the hold-up on the Syrian opposition and its supporters, according to Hezbollah's Al Manar TV. Meanwhile, the head of the Syrian opposition delegation said the issue of Iran's military participation in Syria was hampering progress talks with the Assad regime.

The meeting was the latest round in a series of discussions running up to more formal negotiations set to take place in Geneva on February 23.

Jan Egeland, the humanitarian advisor on Syria for the United Nations, blamed lack of cooperation between Moscow and Washington for the "horrific gridlock" in peace talks. He said on Thursday that though US and Russian cooperation had been "great" in 2016, he had recently become worried about the lack of response to Syria's mounting humanitarian issues.

Egeland then said that a recent spate of illegal sieges had caused a "strangulation of the civilian population."

Syria gov't blasts Turkey's support of 'terrorist' groups

The head of Syria's government delegation accused Turkish officials and Syrian rebels of disrupting negotiations by refusing to agree to a communique. Bashar al-Ja'afari accused the opposition and Turkish backers of demonstrating a "clear will to disrupt the Astana meetings."

Syrian government officials also said Turkey must pull its troops out of Syria and stop supporting "terrorist" groups if it was be a real guarantor of a fragile ceasefire deal brokered at the end of last year. 

Ja'afari said Turkey "cannot be fanning the flames and be extinguishing them at the same time" and accused Ankara of facilitating the entry of "tens of thousands of mercenaries" into Syria. Turkish forces have been helping Syrian opposition forces battle the so-called "Islamic State" jihadist group in northern Syria since August.

Assad supports Trump executive order

Although he was not at the talks in Astana, Assad on Thursday voiced his support for US President Donald Trump's attempted travel ban for seven Muslim-majority nations, including Syria.

"It's not against the Syrian people… it's against the terrorists that could infiltrate some of the immigrants to the West and that happened. It happened in Europe, mainly in Germany and could happen in the United States," Assad said in an interview with French media.

The statement came from Assad despite the fact that no Syrians have carried out terror attacks in Germany.

Assad also used the opportunity to deny allegations launched by Amnesty International of summary executions and other crimes in Damascus. Calling the report "biased," he promised that his army did not torture its enemies and argued that "if we commit such atrocities it's going to play into the hands of the terrorists."

He then blamed the West for the stalled talks, saying that they "did not want to achieve peace in Syria."

es, dm/sms (AFP, Reuters)