Outgoing UN envoy makes new appeal to Syria’s warring sides

GENEVA: The outgoing UN envoy for Syria is appealing on the country’s warring sides to form a committee that would negotiate a new constitution as a way of bringing the Mideast nation out of its protracted civil war.

Staffan de Mistura says there are disagreements over a “few names” of those who would be on that committee. 

He said “agreement, particularly on the side of” the regime of President Bashar Assad was needed.

De Mistura said on Friday that his Dec. 20 briefing to the UN Security Council could be his last. He had originally planned to leave in November.

De Mistura appeared alongside China’s special envoy Xie Xiaoyan and said he was seeking Chinese help to convince Syria’s regime that it’s “worth it to make an effort.”

Turkey and the US have agreed to speed up efforts to put in place an agreement on Manbij by the end of the year, said a working committee between the NATO allies.

Earlier this year, Turkey and the US reached a deal over Manbij, after months of disagreement, under which the Kurdish YPG militia is to completely withdraw from the town. Ankara, which considers the YPG a terrorist organization, says the withdrawal has yet to happen.

During Friday’s meeting the two sides also agreed to continue to work on joint planning with regard to other areas, as mentioned in the Manbij roadmap.

Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have broken into an eastern holdout of Daesh on the Iraqi border.

A Kurdish-led alliance, backed by airstrikes of the US-led coalition, has been battling to oust Daesh from the pocket in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor since September.

Heavy clashes

But the SDF troops suffered a series of setbacks, including due to a vicious fightback by extremists and bad weather that impeded visibility.

On Thursday, an SDF commander said the alliance had managed to break into the pocket and wrest part of its main town from Daesh.

“Heavy clashes are ongoing inside the town of Hajin, after our forces advanced inside and started to control some of its neighborhoods,” said Redur Khalil.

The SDF opened up humanitarian corridors out of the beleaguered pocket, allowing more than 1,000 civilians — mostly woman and children — to flee from Hajin in the past few days.

Khalil accused Daesh of using civilians as human shields, and said the corridors would remain open.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF launched an attack on Tuesday and than dozens of families had managed to flee.

The attack was backed by the heaviest shelling and airstrikes by the US-led coalition since the start of the offensive on the Hajin pocket on Sept. 10, Observatory chief Rami Abdelrahman said.

Since Tuesday, 34 terrorists including three suicide bombers, and 17 SDF fighters have been killed in the fighting, the Observatory said.

In almost three months of battle, more than 820 terrorists and more than 480 US-backed fighters have been killed, the monitor says.

More than 300 civilians have been killed in that period, its says, though the coalition has repeatedly said it did not target non-combatants.

Daesh overran large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, declaring a “caliphate” across territories it controlled.

But various offensives in both countries have routed Daesh from most of that land, crushing its dreams of statehood.

In Syria, Daesh retains a presence in the vast Badia desert that stretches to the Iraqi border, as well as the pocket under attack around Hajin.

“The liberation of Hajin will not signify the end of Daesh,” Khalil said, warning it would retain sleeper cells. “Operations to expel them will still last a long time.”

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