United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen on Wednesday said he expected the committees of the Bashar Assad regime and the Syrian opposition to resume talks and draft constitutional reforms as the violence in the country is ongoing.
Pedersen's comments came as opposition activists reported that regime shelling hit a fuel market in the country's northwest, killing four people and causing a huge fire.
Pedersen spoke to reporters in the capital of Damascus after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, over the country’s lengthy conflict.
Talks were last held in Geneva in October when Pedersen said the Syrian regime’s refusal to negotiate on revisions to the country’s constitution was a key reason for their failure.
“I must say that after my discussions today, I am more optimistic that it will be possible to convene the seventh round of the drafting body of the constitutional committee, hopefully sometime in March,” Pedersen said.
Syria’s conflict that began in March 2011 has killed half a million people and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries.
A 2012 U.N. road map to peace in Syria approved by representatives of the United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members calls for the drafting of a new constitution. It ends with U.N.-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate. A Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 unanimously endorsed the road map.
Pedersen said he would meet later Wednesday with regime representative Ahmad Kuzbari and then contact the opposition’s Syrian National Council after which “we will be able to send out an invitation.”
The talks in October followed a nine-month hiatus in the U.N.-led meetings of the Syrian constitutional committee.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. A smaller 45-member body would do the actual drafting, including 15 members each from the government, opposition and civil society. It took until September 2019 for the committee to be formed.
In the country's northwest, Syrian regime shelling hit a fuel market Wednesday, killing four people, wounding others and triggering a huge fire, an opposition war monitor and paramedics said.
The attack on the village of Tirmanin comes amid increasing tensions near the last major opposition stronghold in northwest Syria and two days after regime shelling of a nearby village killed six people, including two children.
The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense group, also known as the White Helmets, said four people were killed in the Wednesday afternoon attack.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also reported that four people were killed, including two brothers, and three others wounded.
The Idlib region is home to nearly 3 million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country.
Nearly 75% of the total population in the opposition-held Idlib region depends on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs, as 1.6 million people continue to live in camps or informal settlements, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
For years, the Assad regime has ignored the needs and safety of the Syrian people, only eyeing further gains of territory and crushing the opposition. With this aim, the regime has for years bombed civilian facilities such as schools, hospitals and residential areas, causing the displacement of almost half of the country's population.
The situation for the people in Idlib worsened when the Assad regime, backed by Russia, launched an offensive on the province, causing the largest one-time displacement in the history of the Syrian civil war and a huge humanitarian tragedy, according to the U.N.
Frequent bombings and shelling have put nearly 50% of health facilities out of service, just as the Syrian people need them the most amid the coronavirus pandemic. Living in overcrowded tent camps or even out in the open in safe areas near the Turkish border, many are struggling to meet even basic needs.
The Idlib de-escalation zone was forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia. The area has been the subject of multiple cease-fire agreements, which have been frequently violated by the Assad regime and its allies.
A fragile truce was brokered between Moscow and Ankara in March 2020 in response to months of fighting by the Russia-backed regime. Almost a million people have fled the Bashar Assad regime’s offensive yet the regime still frequently carries out attacks on civilians, hindering most from returning to their homes and forcing them to stay in makeshift camps.