Mohammed Sabra, chief negotiator in the delegation of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) to Geneva talks said that the aerial attacks the Assad regime has launched using chemical weapons against civilians, including the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rural Idlib constitute war crimes. He added that the UN set up an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate these crimes.
In a teleconference by members of the HNC mission to the Geneva talks and representatives of civil bodies in Idlib province, Sabra underscored that the Assad regime is using chemical weapons to make political gains and to cling on to power.
A recent report by a fact- finding mission (FFM) of The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that "a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance” in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun.
Hanadi Abu Arab, member of the HNC advisory board, pointed to a continuous push to hold the Assad regime accountable for the war crimes it has committed against the Syrian people over the past six years. Rights groups have recently asked the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria after the Commission obtained compelling evidence proving that Bashar al-Assad is behind these attacks.
In December 2016, the UN General Assembly set up an independent panel to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious violations of international law in Syria.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres in early July announced the appointment of Catherine Marchi-Uhel of France as the head of the independent panel which will be based in Geneva, Switzerland. Marchi-Uhel was previously a judge in France and an international judge at the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, and at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
A joint UN-OPCW panel charged with assigning responsibility for chemical weapons attacks Syria on July 5 was facing heavy political pressure as it was preparing to present its findings on the sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, head of the panel said.
After meeting behind closed doors with the UN Security Council, Edmond Mulet complained of a "highly-politicized environment" in which unidentified "interested parties" were seeking to influence the panel.
"We do receive, unfortunately, direct and indirect messages all the time from many sides telling us how to do our work," Mulet said. "Some of these messages are very clear in saying that if we don't do our work according to them... then they will not accept the conclusions of our work," he added.
Civil society groups in the town of Khan Sheikoun in rural Idlib on Thursday organized a sit-in to mark 100 days since the deadly chemical attack launched by Assad's forces on the town and which left around 400 civilians killed and wounded.
Survivors of the attack and families of the victims as well as members of the local council participated in the sit-in. Participants raised placards condemning the silence of the international community over the massacre and banners that read “Assad is a war criminal" and "you only killed the fear in us." (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)
General Coordinator of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Riad Hijab said that the political process is proceeding very slowly because of the lack of desire on the part of the Assad regime and its allies to reach a political solution and their attempt to block all roads leading to it.
Speaking during a meeting with the HNC mission in Geneva after arriving in the Swiss city on Thursday afternoon, Hijab stressed that the HNC is committed to the political process even though it is moving slowly.
"We have laid out many proposals that have been met with positive response and helped push the political process forward,” Hijab said.
In addition to the lack of seriousness on the part of the other side in the talks, the main reason behind the glacial pace of the political process is the “the lack of a decisive international will to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people; restore stability to the region as a whole; and bring about a political transition away from those who have committed war crimes against the Syrian people."
"We are fully engaged in the political process and see ourselves as partners in the shaping of the future of our country and maintaining the unity of Syria and its social fabric," Hijab stressed.
Moreover, the former Syrian PM stressed that focusing on the political solution and an organized transfer of power aims to prevent “the spread of chaos, the portioning of Syria, and the establishment international spheres of influence in our country.” He went on to say that “we want our country to have a fair law, equal citizenship, and true democracy."
Hijab stressed that the Assad regime and its allies have committed major war crimes against the Syrian people with the sole aim of “breaking their will and dissuading them from their demands for freedom and dignity." (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)
President of the Syrian Coalition Riad Seif sent letters to the United Nations and its Secretary-General António Guterres as well as to Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri to stress the need to protect the Syrian refugees in Lebanon, especially in the town of Arsal.
Seif said that the killing, arrest and physical abuse of Syrian refugees is "disgraceful violation of human rights laws and the Lebanese law." He added that "these acts cannot be justified whatsoever by the fight against terrorism, our common enemy, or to preserve Lebanon's security."
One of the reasons why Syrian refugees are in Lebanon is “the intervention of the Hezbollah militias in Syria and its alliance with the regime which practiced violence and terrorism against its people."
Seif called for the protection of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. "We hope you will provide proper protection to the guests of the Lebanese Republic," he said. “The Syrian Coalition fully respects and supports the security and safety of Lebanon and the Lebanese people."
Syrian activists on Thursday staged a protest in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva where a new round of negotiations is taking place. Protestors called on the Lebanese authorities to put an end to Hezbollah's human rights violations against Syrian refugees.
Last week, camps housing Syrian refugees were violently raided, especially in and around the town of Arsal. Around 19 Syrian refugees were killed during the violent raids by the Hezbollah militias and Lebanese army units. Ten more Syrian refugees reportedly died under torture while in the custody of the Lebanese army. Over 350 refugees were detained, mostly from the refugee camps in the Arsal area. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)
Nasr Hariri, Head of the delegation of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC) to the Geneva talks, stressed that the protection of Syrian civilians from the military operations being carried out by the Assad regime and the Iranian militias is still at the top of the list of demands submitted to the United Nations by the Coalition.
Speaking at a teleconference with members of the local council in the town of Mahja in rural Dara’a on Thursday, Hariri said that reaching a comprehensive ceasefire and the establishment of mechanisms to monitor violations and ensure accountability would be the only way to rein in the Assad regime.
Secretary-General of the Syrian Coalition Nazir Hakim and member of the Coalition’s political committee Yasser Farhan also participated in the teleconference.
Members of the council said that the Assad regime and Russian army officers are exerting immense pressure on residents of the town to force them to surrender.
Head of the council pointed out that neither civilians nor the FSA fighters want to negotiate with the regime, expressing concern that the Assad regime may carry out the threats it made of imposing a complete siege and shelling the town. He indicated that the Assad regime made these threats “with the full knowledge of the Russians."
Hariri pointed out that the HNC delegation will inform the United Nations, the US administration, and the Jordanian government about the developments and violations being committed by the regime. He stressed that the HNC delegation will spare no effort to communicate and work with concerned parties in order to prevent the regime from carrying out its threats against the town.
Secretary-General of the Syrian Coalition, Nazir Hakim, said that the town of Mahja has strategic importance, which explains the regime’s attempts to capture it. He noted that the Russians wanted to negotiate with residents of the town to enable the Assad regime establish a foothold in the strategic town. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department)