Welcome to our weekly summary of Syria Deeply’s top coverage of crisis in Syria.
As part of our Deeply Talks series, Syria Deeply will host a live call next week, examining the recent flurry of diplomatic discussions aimed at setting the stage for a settlement to the nearly seven-year conflict. Keep an eye on your inbox this week for the invitation.
Peace talks: The eighth round of peace talks opened in Geneva last Tuesday, and by Friday, the Syrian government delegation had quit, saying they would not return without a change in the opposition’s stance toward President Bashar al-Assad.
Chief government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari said there would be “no progress” as long as the opposition did not reverse its call for the removal of Assad before the start of a political transition. The opposition High Negotiation Committee (HNC) adopted this position two weeks ago during their own talks in Saudi Arabia, where they had hoped to form a stronger, more unified front before heading to Geneva.
In a televised interview with the pro-government al-Mayadeen TV, Jaafari later said the government would not engage seriously in peace talks if the statement was not revoked, and said the decision on whether or not to resume negotiations this week was in Damascus’ hands.
The previous day, U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters that negotiations could run until December 15.
Israel strikes Syria: Israel again threatened Syria over Iran’s presence in the country, saying it would not tolerate Iran-backed forces along its border.
Israel fired missiles toward Damascus on Saturday, reportedly targeting a military site near the capital, according to CNN. Syria’s air defense system intercepted two Israeli surface-to-surface missiles but others caused material damage to the military position, according to state-run SANA news agency.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the missiles targeted an arms depot near al-Kiswa town south of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army, Lebanese Hezbollah or other Iran-backed forces operated the warehouse.
“Let me reiterate Israel’s policy,” Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of American and Israeli leaders in Washington hosted by the Brookings Institution.
“We will not allow that regime [Iran] to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as it seeks to do, for the express purpose of eradicating our state.”
Damascus suburbs: Despite being a so-called de-escalation zone, the Eastern Ghouta area in the Damascus suburbs has been under heavy bombardment for more than 20 days. At least 192 people, including 43 children, 21 women and four members of the Civil Defense, have been killed since November 14, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“There has been massive loss of life – hundreds and hundreds have been wounded,” special United Nations humanitarian adviser for Syria, Jan Egeland, said, describing the situation as a “catastrophe.”
“In general, there is no calm in this de-escalation zone. There is only escalation in this de-escalation zone,” Egeland said.
Amnesty International claimed the Syrian government used Soviet-made cluster munitions – which 100 countries have banned – in the Eastern Ghouta, killing at least 10 civilians since November 14.
What’s more, a crippling siege has left as many as 400,000 people trapped in the rebel-held area without access to health and basic living necessities.