UN Envoy in Damascus as Opposition Factions Launch Latakia Offensive
United Nations special envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen arrived in Damascus on Tuesday for discussions with regime officials on the formation of a constitutional committee.
“I’m looking forward to have what I believe are constructive discussions on how to move the political process forward,” Pedersen said, adding he would also discuss ways to end the fighting in northwestern Idlib province.
He is scheduled to hold meetings with regime officials on Wednesday.
His predecessor, Staffan de Mistura, stepped down after a four-year tenure that ended with an abortive push to form the committee to draw up a post-war constitution.
The regime wants to amend the existing constitution, while the opposition have called for a new one entirely.
The committee is to be made up of 150 members, 50 chosen by the regime, the same number by the opposition, and another 50 selected by the UN envoy.
Pedersen’s arrival coincided with a new opposition offensive in the mountains of the coastal Latakia province, with opposition activists saying fighters overran a series of Syrian regime positions.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes are underway in several locations in the Turkman Mountains. It said the fighting killed 35 people on both sides in the opening hours. There was no immediate confirmation or regime comment.
Pedersen’s visit to Syria follows meetings he held with Russian officials in Moscow on Friday, where he urged Russia to help stabilize the violence in and around the Idlib province and support drafting the country’s new constitution. Following his meetings there, he said “we now seem to be closer to establishing a constitutional committee.”
The UN hopes that convening the constitutional committee would be the first step toward a new constitution and new elections.
However, Syrian officials have said they will not accept outside dictates when it comes to Syria’s constitution and have suggested regime leader Bashar Assad might even run for re-election.
The more than yearlong effort to form a 150-member constitutional committee has been dogged by objections from the regime over the 50-member list representing experts, independents, tribal leaders and women. There is already agreement on 50-member lists from the regime and the opposition.