(AFP) The Syrian army on Wednesday cut the last supply route linking opposition forces in the northern city of Aleppo to the Turkish border, a military source said, in a major blow to the rebels. The source said the army had broken a long-running [three year] rebel siege of two government-held Shiite villages, Nubol and Zahraa, and taken control of parts of the supply route.February 3: UN Special Envoy to Syria suspends half-hearted talks about peace talks:
(Reuters) Talks being mediated by the United Nations to end the war in Syria are on hold, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday, while another official at the United Nations blamed the suspension on Russia's latest military escalation.
"I have concluded frankly that after the first week of preparatory talks there is more work to be done, not only by us but by the stakeholders," he said.
"I have indicated from the first day that I won't talk for the sake of talking."
He was speaking after meeting opposition coordinator Riad Hijab, who had just arrived in Geneva.
A senior U.N. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that de Mistura called a halt to the talks after Russia increased air strikes to help the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, undermining the negotiating process.
"I think the special envoy decided to suspend the talks because the (United Nations) did not want to be associated with the Russian escalation in Syria, which risks undermining the talks completely," the official said.
"The stepped up airstrikes gain the government ground, but also aim at humiliating the opposition on the ground and in Geneva," he added.
Hijab told reporters that it was not the last chance for peace, but the opposition would not return to peace talks without evidence of humanitarian improvements on the ground. The pause was a chance for the international community to put pressure on Assad and his allies, he said.
The pause came abruptly after several days of stuttering progress and postponed meetings, without De Mistura ever getting the two sides in a dialogue. De Mistura's office initially said the talks would resume on Feb. 25 but later issued a statement saying the could start again before that date.
It also came after intensified Syrian government advances backed by Russian air strikes on rebel positions in northern Aleppo.
Hijab blamed the Syrian government delegation for collapsing the talks, but its leader Bashar Ja'afari said it was "a failure of everybody except the government of the Syrian Arab Republic."
Ja'afari told reporters that he had known for "hours" that the opposition wanted to withdraw and accused De Mistura of pausing the talks to avert a walk-out.
"We consider that the style used by the Special Envoy to justify the withdrawal of Riyadh delegation under instructions from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey was not subjective. It didn't say the truth as it was,” Ja'afari said.
[...]The unnamed UN official is talking trash; what about the humiliation of the civilian victims of the suicide bombing near a Shiite shrine in Damascus on January 31? Wouldn't the attack have been sufficient for De Mistura to suspend the peace talks?
Al-Jaafari is right; the Riyadh faction wants the talks halted while it tries to regroup. From a Reuters report earlier today:
Rebels described the assault north of Aleppo as the most intense yet. One commander said opposition-held areas of the divided city were at risk of being encircled entirely by the government and allied militia, appealing to foreign states that back the rebels to send more weapons."Intense" is right; here's video from Al-Masdar News of the army's assault (no music; I promise):
More from the Reuters report:
Another rebel commander said he had sent reinforcements to the area. "We sent new fighters this morning, we sent heavier equipment there. It seems it will be a decisive battle in the north, God willing," said Ahmed al-Seoud, head of a Free Syrian Army group known as Division 13. "We sent TOW missile platforms. We sent everything there," he told Reuters.
U.S.-made TOW missiles, or guided anti-tank missiles, are the most potent weapon in the rebel arsenal and have been supplied to vetted rebel groups as part of a program of military support overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency.
But while they have helped rebels to slow advances on the ground, they are of little use against fighter bombers.As to whether the White House is still ordering the CIA to send al-towi to the Riyadh faction -- let's ring up President Obama and ask him.