- The opposition camp has been deeply split over the Russian demands, with some negotiators saying they wanted to continue the fighting
- Activists working to uncover mass graves in northeastern Syria — a region until recently controlled by Daesh
AMMAN: Syrian opposition negotiators began a new round of talks with Russian officers on Tuesday over a peace deal in southern Syria under which they would hand over weapons and allow Russian military police to enter opposition-held towns.
Accompanied by a major Russian aerial bombing campaign, Syrian pro-regime forces have marched swiftly into insurgent territory in Daraa province over the past two weeks.
Opposition spokesman Ibrahim Al-Jabawi said the opposition had carried to the negotiating table their “response to a list of Russian demands” that include the handing over of weapons and settling the status of rebels in a deal that ends the fighting.
“Today they are carrying their response to the terms presented by the Russian officers,” Al-Jabawi said.
The Russian demands, handed to the opposition in a meeting in a town in southern Syria on Saturday, had prompted a walkout by the rebels, who said the terms amounted to a humiliating surrender. The opposition team was then persuaded by Jordan to go back to the negotiating table, diplomatic sources said.
The opposition negotiators have also agreed to expand their team to a 12-strong delegation after an agreement among them to include the Quneitra province further west near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Al-Jabawi said.
Previously they were negotiating for Daraa province to the east.
“A new expanded negotiating committee that represents all the south has been formed to reach an agreement to spare innocent lives and ensure the safety of civilians and fighters,” said a statement by the central operations room in the south, representing the key opposition factions in that region.
The opposition camp has, however, been deeply split over the Russian demands, with some negotiators saying they wanted to continue the fighting and accusing some rebel commanders of cutting separate deals with the Russian military.
Opposition members and residents say that a string of towns have worked out their own surrender arrangements that have allowed the Russian military police to enter their towns and patrol neighborhoods.
Activists working to uncover mass graves in northeastern Syria — a region until recently controlled by Daesh — need help to preserve evidence, identify human remains and shed more light on the unspeakable horrors perpetrated by the terrorists during their reign there, an international watchdog said on Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said thousands of bodies remain to be recovered in several mass graves scattered around the city of Raqqa and nearby areas.
Local members of the Raqqa Civil Council are “struggling to cope with the logistical challenges of collecting and organizing information” on the bodies uncovered and providing it to families searching for missing or dead relatives, HRW said.
Raqqa was the extremists’ de facto capital and the seat of their self-proclaimed caliphate.
The caliphate and the contiguous territory under Daesh crumbled in October last year.
HRW underscored that identifying missing people and preserving evidence for possible prosecutions is critical for Syria’s future.
“Raqqa city has at least nine mass graves, each one estimated to have dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, making exhumations a monumental task,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at HRW.
“Without the right technical assistance, these exhumations may not provide families with the answers they have been waiting for and could damage or destroy evidence crucial to future justice efforts,” she added.
In 2016, when Daesh was losing territories it held, The Associated Press documented and mapped 72 of the mass graves in Iraq and Syria with many more expected to be uncovered.
In Syria, the AP obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when Daesh terrorists took over their region.
For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead.
In others, estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, Daesh’s propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth.
At the time, between 5,200 people to more than 15,000 people were believed buried in the graves.