The Latest: Syrian opposition hints govt behind Homs attack
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria and at peace talks in Geneva (all times local):
Syria’s top opposition delegates taking part in talks mediated by the United States in Geneva said they condemn terrorism but are hinting that Saturday’s attacks in the city of Homs may have been done by the Syrian government itself.
Nasr al-Hariri, head of the main opposition negotiating delegation, condemned all kinds of terrorism but said the Syrian government in Damascus was the primary “sponsor of terrorism.”
His statement fell short of a direct condemnation of the attack in Homs, a condition set by the Syrian government representative to move forward in the talks.
Col. Faleh Hassoun, another member of the delegation, cast doubt on who was behind the attack, pointing out that only those with security clearance could access such an area.
He told reporters “what really happened today we can call it liquidation by the regime of those who are wanted by international courts.” He said the brigadier general who was killed Saturday is accused in the killing of Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese premier who was assassinated in 2005. Many believe the government in Damascus was behind the assassination.
The Syrian government’s top envoy to Geneva peace talks says his side will meet face-to-face with the opposition only if its various factions come together in a “unified, patriotic opposition.”
Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, pressed home the government’s demand that the opposition denounce terrorism in the wake of deadly attacks against security offices in the central city of Homs earlier Saturday.
Speaking to reporters after a 2-1/2-hour meeting with the U.N. Syria envoy, al-Ja’afari said of the government delegation: “We do not have any pre-conditions.”
In comments translated from Arabic, he said: “We only have one condition, and that is that we can sit with one unified patriotic opposition that we can consider as a full partner — an opposition delegation that condemns terrorism.”
Syria’s envoy to the peace talks in Geneva says he demands that the opposition delegation denounce the attacks in the central city of Homs as terrorism, saying it is a test of their commitment to finding common ground.
Bashar al-Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., says the Saturday attacks were a message to the talks in an attempt to derail them. He called them “act of political terrorism.” The attacks were claimed by al-Qaida -linked coalition in Syria.
Al-Ja’afari said the condemnation wouldn’t bring back lives, but that it would be a “test” to the opposition to prove it is a moderate one. He says those who refuse to condemn the attacks will be considered partners in terrorism, not talks.
The twin attacks were among the best coordinated against government security offices, killing at least 32 including a senior officer of the feared Military Intelligence Services.
Syrian State News Agency SANA is reporting that Islamic State militants in the country’s central province of Homs have lobbed mortars at natural gas pipelines, putting some production lines out of service.
Syrian Minister of Electricity Mohammad Zuheir Kharboutli told State TV the attack on the southern factory will reduce its capacity to generate power by 65 percent. The Oil Minister Ali Ghanim said the factory feeds the national grid with 6.6 million cubic meters a day but he added maintenance was underway to restore full operations.
Islamic State militants have been battling government troops around the gas lines in Homs since December.
The attacks came hours after a separate attack in Homs city against security offices, which were claimed by al-Qaida-linked insurgents.
The U.N. envoy for Syria is decrying a “tragic” string of deadly attacks by insurgents in the central city of Homs, and says he suspected “spoilers” would try to scuttle peace talks in Geneva.
Staffan de Mistura spoke to reporters after the synchronized attacks Saturday left at least 32 people dead, and just moments before he hosted Syria’s U.N. Ambassador, Bashar al-Ja’afari, for peace talks between the opposition and government. The talks began Thursday.
De Mistura says: “I’m expecting during these talks, unfortunately, spoilers. Every time we had talks or a negotiation, there was always someone who was trying to spoil it — we were expecting that.”
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations says the attacks against security offices in the country’s central city of Homs are a message from the “sponsors of terrorism” to the peace talks.
Bashar al-Ja’afari, who leads Damascus’ delegation to the peace talks in Geneva, said Saturday the attacks, which he called a “crime,” will not go unanswered. He said they “were a message to Geneva from the sponsors of terrorism. The message has been delivered.”
Al-Ja’afari was arriving for talks with the U.N. envoy to Syria. The talks in Geneva opened Thursday.
The twin attacks were among the best coordinated against the government security offices, killing at least 32 including a senior officer of the feared Military Intelligence Services.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry urged the U.N. to condemn the attacks.
A leader of the main Syrian opposition group says the group shares the priorities of the new U.S. administration to fight the Islamic State group and contain Iran.
Nasr Hariri, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Geneva says: “We have a lot of points that we share with this new administration of America,” said Hariri. “On the top of these priorities is fighting terrorism.”
He said members of the Trump team met with members of the main Syrian opposition before and after he was elected in a bid to find common ground.
U.N. Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura is holding a third day of meetings in Geneva with government and opposition delegations in a bid to find a political solution to Syria’s six-year war.
Syrian media says multiple explosions have struck a security building in the central city of Homs, inflicting numerous casualties.
The state-affiliated Ikhbariyeh TV said the blasts Saturday morning were caused by suicide attacks.
The governor of Homs Province, Talal Barzani, told The Associated Press that there were three blasts total, killing more than 20 people, and wounding many others. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported at least 14 people were killed.
Homs is Syria’s third-largest city and largely in the control of the government.