x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Syrian regime and rebels reach deal to ease blockade in Qudsaya

Deal will allow food to reach civilians in town near the capital for the first time in weeks.

BEIRUT // Government officials and rebels reached a deal to ease a blockade on a rebel-held town of Qudsaya near the Syrian capital yesterday, allowing food to reach civilians there for the first time in weeks, activists said.

The truce came as the main Western-backed Syrian opposition began the second day of a two-day meeting in the Turkish capital Istanbul to decide whether they will attend a proposed peace conference the US and Russia are trying to convene in Geneva by the end of this year.

The Syrian National Coalition has demanded Syria’s president Bashar Al Assad step down in any transitional government as a condition for participation in the talks. Syrian officials say Mr Al Assad will stay in his post at least until his term ends in 2014 and that he may run for re-election. Coalition Spokesman Louay Safi said discussions were continuing.

“There are people who are concerned and worried that not enough preparation has taken place. And there are those who would like to make a decision but with some preparation,” he told reporters in Istanbul.

The Coalition is also expected to approve a list of cabinet of ministers presented by interim prime minister, Ahmad Toumeh, who was elected in September.

The western-backed group has also called for goodwill measures from the Assad regime, including lifting sieges on rebel-held areas. It was unknown if the deal in Qudsaya was such a gesture, as neither rebels nor Syrian officials comment on such deals.

Activist group the Qudsaya Media Team confirmed the truce in a statement but gave few details. In an earlier November release, they said local markets had run out of food, and the area’s poorest residents were going hungry. They could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the conflict, said the deal allowed food and flour to enter the town on the outskirts of Damascus, under blockade since October.

Syrian troops also regained full control of a key base in northern Aleppo province near its international airport, state television said, after several days of clashes with rebels.

“Our brave armed forces have complete control over Base 80,” state television said.

Associated Press with additional reporting from Agence France-Presse