Syria’s Peace Prospects in ‘Reverse Gear’ Amid Siege, U.S. Says

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Smoke and rubble rise after Syrian oppositions blow up a tunnel under Syrian Regime forces' headquarters in Aleppo's Ramuse region, Syria on Aug. 3, 2016.

Photographer: Muhammed Sheekh/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • Humanitarian aid convoys unable to reach beseiged areas
  • Political talks unlikely to take place as fighting continues

Prospects for restarting Syrian peace talks have dimmed considerably this month as fighting that rages around the northern city of Aleppo prevents humanitarian aid convoys from delivering supplies, according to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The warring parties in the 5 1/2 year conflict are “a long way” from starting political talks, Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters Tuesday after a UN Security Council meeting. On humanitarian access, “we’re in reverse gear,” Power said. “On the cessation of hostilities, we’re back to where we were before the cessation of hostilities, with the additional negative of Aleppo being besieged.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops, backed by Russian air power, are engaged in heavy fighting to recapture Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city before fighting erupted in 2011.

Taking the city would give Assad control of more than 40 percent of Syrian territory and 60 percent of the population, leaving the Islamic State terrorist group with about 35 percent of the country, mostly desert, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists on the ground. It would also deal a blow to U.S. efforts to oust Assad.

For a QuickTake explainer on Syria’s civil war, click here.

The UN has repeatedly been stymied in efforts to broker an accord in Syria. Following a partial cease-fire in February, the UN had originally set Aug. 1 as a deadline to start peace talks. Last month UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called for a weekly 48-hour “humanitarian pause” in the eastern part of Aleppo. Neither is happening.

On Tuesday, Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy to Syria, told the Security Council that he hoped to start political talks to help end the conflict, which has killed more than 280,000 people and displaced millions, by the end of the month. But he added that doing so would depend on a number of conditions, such as a halt to the fighting.

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