Saturday, December 31, 2016

On Syria, ICP Asks Churkin If Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam Are In Deal, Of Haftar in Libya

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 30 -- When Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin announced on Friday December 30 that he hoped for a unanimous vote on New Year's Eve on a resolution endorsing his country's and Turkey's ceasefire plan in Syria, Inner City Press asked him which groups are included. Video here. From the Mission transcript:

Inner city Press: It is reported that Ahrar al-Sham have some reservations about the deal. Are Jaysh al-Islam also are part of the deal?

Churkin: The counting of the groups is very complicated, as you know. Our understanding is that 7 major groups have joined in this arrangement. Staffan de Mistura, as you know, counted as many as 98 different groups fighting in Syria. The relationship between those groups is sometimes very complicated, but the thing is that in those documents there are 13 armed groups who delegated two gentlemen who are named in the annex to the documents, who are delegated the authority to sign the agreement on their behalf, which they did. The agreement about forming the delegation of the opposition. So, by our account, those groups represent 60,000 fighters and they control a large chunk of the territory of Syria.

  Inner City Press also asked Churkin about Libya and he praised Haftar: see end of video, not transcribed. The Syria vote is set for December 31 at 11 am. Watch this site.

After the failure of two previous resolutions on Syria, New Zealand on October 13 circulated a draft resolution, which Inner City Press published that day, here.

On December 18, France convened consultations to then, it said, vote on its draft resolution about Aleppo.

But three and a half hours later, the meeting broke up without a vote. Instead, another meeting was set for Monday 9 am to vote it through. See,

On December 19, as predicted, the modified resolution was voted through, 15-0. Afterward Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari came to the Council stakeout and, among other things, named people he called foreign intelligence agents trying to flee Eastern Aleppo.

Inner City Press asked him, as it had UK deputy ambassador Peter Wilson, about those trapped in Kefraya and al-Foua and the busses meant to evacuate them that were burned.

  Ja'afari said that 25 busses were burned, the drivers taken hostage and three of them killed. When US Ambassador Samantha Power did a stakeout, the questions were pre-picked (Turkish state media, US state media, Japanese media to urge Japan to vote for South Sudan sanctions, sign of the Times).

On Syria Power ran through a litany of other besieged cities without mention Kefraya and al-Foua, much less the busses. But the omission(s) on South Sudan, particularly on Inner City Press question about the UN arming warlord James Koang, were also troubling, and less covered.

 We'll be following up - even after UN thugs grabbed, three and smashed Inner City Press' live-Periscope camera. We note that those involved in the censorship, demanding to know "what do you do for Aleppo," were not at the UN on December 18...

On the way in on December 18, Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin said, "We cannot allow it to pass," called it unrealistic. Periscope here - 36 hours after UN thugs grabbed and smashed Inner City Press' Periscoping phone as it broadcast including about Aleppo. &

  France's Permanent Representative Francois Delattre, when he came in, said there would be no further compromise. US Permanent Representative Samantha Power told the press she'd make her comments "in the Chamber."

Inner City Press asked UK Deputy Permanent Representative Peter Wilson about photos of busses meant to evacuate Foua and Kefraya being burned. The UK's answer was that they've seen the reports and condemn any attack, that that it's no excuse...

But isn't it all connected?

Then in consultations, Russia circulated it own draft...

Consultations were suspended and diplomats milled around, using cell phones...

On December 13 a Security Council meeting was scheduled for noon about Aleppo. The UN canceled its noon briefing, for the second day in a row; questions about Yemen, Myanmar and Burundi could not be asked (anyway Ban Ki-moon's spokespeople no longer answer).

  But in the Security Council chamber, Russia's Vitaly Churkin mocked Samantha Power for speaking as if she were Mother Theresa. By the same Syria's Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari spoke, not only Power but then also her deputy Michele Sison, previously the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, another killing zone on which the US did nothing, made a point of walking out. Mother Theresa indeed.

   Afterward Inner City Press sought to asked UN envoy Staffan de Mistura a question. He seemed to have pegged Inner City Press, saying he knew Inner City Press would ask him if he was resigning.

(Actually, our question has been about his previously hiring Ban Ki-moon's son in law Siddharth Chatterjee, whom Ban has more recently promoted to the top UN job in Kenya without recusing himself. But we digress).

   Inner City Press asked de Mistura about Palmyra -- he said some 20% of the population remains -- and if he had in fact managed or scheduled to meet Team Trump. He'd said he aimed to; now he told Inner City Press he would have no comment since Trump has yet to take office.

From the UN's transcript:

Inner City Press Q. In Palymra, what is the status of civilians? And also, is there any update on your desire to meet with the team of the incoming US president. Have you met with them or will you do so this week?

SdeM. Regarding Palmyra, the issue is very confused at the moment because as you know ISIL, or Daesh, has been actually taking over the city by surprise, with a substantial number of fighters. The population to a large degree, according to the government, has been evacuated just in time, they were not that many so it probably did take place. But there is a concern for those who have not been able to be evacuated which is about 20 percent of the population at the time. What we hear is the intension of fighting back and retaking Palmyra. But what is shocking and surprising and worrisome is that they were actually able to do so, having lost the control of Palmyra. Regarding meetings with the President-elect team, our line is not to comment on it, because it is an informal environment given that the President-elect is not yet in charge and his whole team is not totally there. Whatever meetings with may be taking place and have taken place I will make no comments on that.

   What changed? Is it that Ban hasn't been able to get a meeting? Ban later on December 13 was set to meet New York City's Mayor Bill De Blasio.

Back on November 23 Inner City Press was informed of an “Egyptian draft put in blue on Aleppo,” which would demand a “ten day humanitarian pause around Aleppo with 72 hours advance notice.”

This draft went through a number of changes before it was double-vetoed on December 5. Inner City Press has learned that language included for a time in the draft, distinguishing between designated terrorist groups ISIS, Nabhat al Nusra and aliases and other armed groups was opposed - by Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Qatar in particular.

   Diplomats expressed a mixture of surprise and disgust, given the separate public push for action in the General Assembly. Inner City Press waited at the UN Security Council stakeout on December 8 to try to ask UN envoy Stephane de Mistura about all this.

  But de Mistura and his spokesman had already chosen from whom they would take questions - don't forget that de Mistura similarly “selected” Ban Ki-moon's son in law Siddharth Chatterjee for a promotion as his chief of staff in Iraq, buying his way in a la Jan Mattson. And none of the selected questions touched on this. Ban doesn't need promotions for his son in law anymore, having promoted him without recusal himself to the top UN job in Kenya.

    Meanwhile de Mistura says he will mean with some in Trump's team, Monday or Tuesday. Will the UN's Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed? Watch this site.

On December 4 the amended draft was put on the UN Security Council's agenda for Monday, December 5 at 2 pm. While Inner City Press covered the meeting as it has previous Syria session of the Security Council, two UN Security officers ordered it to leave. It was noting but targeting: other photographers weren't even asked why they were there, much less given orders.

Just past noon on December 5, a closed door consultations was scheduled for 1:45 pm. At that time, the glass door to the Security Council stakeout was locked and Inner City Press, due to restrictions imposed on it by Ban Ki-moon and his chief of “Public Information” Cristina Gallach, could not reach it. Later it did, and Periscoped the Permanent Representatives of the UK and France, here.

  After 2 pm, everyone filed into the the Chamber. Russia's Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin said the vote shouldn't be taken, because the draft had only been put “in blue” at 11:20 am. He said waiting the seemingly required 24 hours would allow for meetings in Geneva discussed by the US and Russia.

   But the US, by its deputy Michele Sison and not its Permanent Representative Samantha Power - whose permanence expired on January 21 is not before - said the vote should go forward. Churkin said the US Mission was trying to topple something discussed with John Kerry, also outgoing.

  When the voting occurred, not only Russia but also China and Venezuela voted no, and Angola abstained. Photo here. Then the speeches started.

Surprisingly, China took a right of reply against the US; deputy Sison purported to reply but did not do so directly. She left the meeting.

During the speeches, suddenly the door to the photo booth opened. Come out, a UN Security officer told Inner City Press, ignoring the other photographer in the booth. Out in the hall, missing the speeches, the officer said again and again, "You're not supposed to be in there... Close the door." Audio here.

  Out in the hall a second UN Security officer, who previously followed Inner City Press around saying its backpack was too big, also said to leave. Inner City Press said, “This is targeting” - and one of the officers said, “You're disturbing the meeting.” Who's disturbing the meeting? This is censorship.