October 21, 2016

Syria opposition unveils transition plan

Rebels walk past damaged buildings in Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, Syria

A group representing Syria’s opposition has unveiled plans for a political transition designed to bring an end to the ruinous civil war, calling for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad after six months and for elections to be held after two years.

The High Negotiations Committee plan presented in London Wednesday calls for a full cease-fire to take effect as six months of negotiations begin with Assad’s government. The goal is to develop a signed agreement on the “basic principles” of the transition process.

HNC chief Riad Hijab says this would be followed by the establishment of a transitional governing body and the departure of Assad “and his clique.”

 He says after 18 months there should be U.N.-supervised elections.

Hijab concedes there are formidable obstacles hindering implementation of the plan.

An official in Syria’s rebel-held Aleppo says at least one person has died from a suspected chlorine attack reported a day earlier.

Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of the local forensic department in rebel-held Aleppo, said Wednesday 29-year old Mohammed Afifa died overnight of heart failure and acute respiratory distress caused by inhalation of toxic gas.

Hamza al-Khatib, who heads an Aleppo medical center, said Afifa had been in intensive care following the suspected chlorine attack.

Activists and rescuers said at least 70 people were treated for breathing difficulties after government helicopters dropped the suspected chlorine cylinders on al-Sukkari neighborhood.

Accusations involving the use of chlorine and other poisonous gases are not uncommon in Syria’s civil war. The report could not be independently verified and it was not clear how it was determined that chlorine gas was released.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that Turkey could take part in a future operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State group militants.

Erdogan told journalists aboard a plane as he returned from a G-20 meeting that the issue was brought up by U.S. President Barack Obama during the meetings in China. His words were reported by Hurriyet and several other Turkish newspapers on Wednesday.

Erdogan says: “Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa. We said this would not be a problem from our perspective.”

The Turkish leader adds that he said Turkish and U.S. military officials could meet to discuss the issue.

Turkey’s military entered Syria last month to back efforts by Syrian rebels to push IS from the border, and has also clashed with Syrian Kurdish troops.

The U.N. humanitarian aid agency says fighting in Syria’s central Hama governorate has displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September.

In a “flash update ,” OCHA says figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced arrived in the neighboring Idlib governorate. It says a shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks.

The Tuesday update says the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation.

OCHA says a dozen schools in rural areas and four mosques in the city of Hama were converted into temporary shelters.

Insurgents led by an ultraconservative Islamic group last week advanced northward in Hama province, prompting fierce fighting with government forces.

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