Progress in Geneva, terror back home

Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen has more on the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee’s decision to reverse course, somewhat, and attend peace talks in Geneva after all. It appears that the HNC’s delegation is there with a pretty narrow mandate:

“We have come to Geneva to seek relief for our people by insisting UN Security Council resolution 2254 is implemented, which means humanitarian relief, the lifting of sieges and the end of attacks on civilians,” HNC spokesman Salem Al-Meslet said. “We are intensifying our efforts to ensure that action is taken to end the suffering in Syria.”

The UN is touting the HNC’s arrival as the “official beginning” of the Geneva peace talks, but it doesn’t seem like the HNC is there to talk about a permanent peace. If Assad agrees to these humanitarian demands, then I suppose they might be inclined to negotiate more broadly, but there’s been little evidence in this war so far that Assad is amenable to taking these sorts of humanitarian measures on anything but a very ad hoc basis. And if Assad isn’t willing to budge on those issues, it’s not clear whether the HNC will actually stay in Geneva.

Meanwhile, of course, the people of Syria are still suffering through a nightmare. People in the Assad-besieged town of Madaya are still starving to death despite the UN’s delivery of food aid to the city in mid-January. That number will only go up, as that aid, sent to alleviate starvation in cities that are being besieged by both government and rebel forces, was only supposed to last for a month and it’s been 3 weeks, give or take, since it arrived. Yesterday, meanwhile, the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque/shrine in Damascus was bombed by ISIS in an attack that killed more than 70 people. The shrine is said to contain the burial place of Zaynab, the daughter of Ali and Fatimah and therefore granddaughter of Muhammad, and it’s a popular destination for Shiʿa pilgrims.

The Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in Damascus (Wikimedia)

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