Russia and US deny date set for Syrian peace conference

Syria’s deputy PM Qadri Jamil says Geneva conference scheduled for November 23-24

A Free Syrian Army fighter launches a rocket towards forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in Raqqa. Photograph:  Nour Fourat/ Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter launches a rocket towards forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad in Raqqa. Photograph: Nour Fourat/ Reuters

Fri, Oct 18, 2013, 19:44

Fierce fighting raged in northern and eastern Syria today as Russia and the US denied that a date has been set for the proposed Geneva conference aimed at ending Syria’s civil conflict, contradicting Syrian deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil, who declared the gathering had been scheduled for November 23rd to 24th.

Mr Jamil said the conference must convene because “everyone is at a dead end, a military and political dead end”, and negotiations provided “a way out for everyone: the Americans, Russia, the Syrian regime and the opposition. Whoever does not realise it will find himself overboard, outside the political process.”

The conference has been repeatedly postponed because the Arab- and western-backed expatriate opposition Syrian National Coalition has made its participation conditional on guarantees that Bashar al-Assad will not remain Syrian president at the conclusion of negotiations.

Transitional government
Although the conference is meant to appoint a transitional government with full executive powers, in effect removing Dr Assad from office, he has countered by saying he could stand for re-election next year if the Syrian people called upon him to do so.

Pressure to attend is expected to mount on the divided and dysfunctional coalition, its constituents and rebel factions when core members of the Friends of Syria group meet in London next week. US secretary of state John Kerry, a prime mover of the Geneva conference, is due to attend.

Thirteen fundamentalist militias based in the north have rejected the coalition as the representative of the Syrian people and this week 70 southern factions followed suit.

In Syria, teams from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have found no “weaponised” munitions for the delivery of poison gas or nerve agents at 11 sites they have visited.

At six sites they have destroyed machinery for the production of chemical agents and filing bombs. Operations have proceeded despite bombings near the hotel where international staff stay.

Cyprus has ratified an agreement with the organisation for the establishment in the UN-controlled buffer zone at Nicosia airport of a support base for the 100-person mission in Syria. Cyprus will also host the fundraising wing of the operation.

General killed
Maj Gen Jameh Jameh, the head of military intelligence in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor, was killed this week during clashes between the army and rebel fighters.

Once a top general with a fearsome reputation, the EU had imposed sanctions on him in 2011 for involvement “in violence against the civilian population”.

Carl Campeau, a Canadian lawyer employed by a UN peacekeeping mission in Syria, was handed over to a UN official after escaping from a rebel group that had held him for eight months.