* The Syrian National Coalition on Wednesday presented a “Statement of Basic Principles” for the Geneva II conference, reiterating its demand that peace talks be based on the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers. Damascus officials swiftly rejected the proposal, with Information Minister Omran Zoubi insisting that the regime delegation “will not discuss any issue before that of fighting terrorism.” Meanwhile, pro-opposition news site All4Syria reported that Syrian authorities Wednesday released Safwan Akkash—a prominent member of the National Coordination Committee, Syria’s main “internal opposition” group—after detaining him at Damascus airport Tuesday. Akkash was returning from a Cairo meeting with Coalition head Ahmad Jarba and Egyptian authorities to discuss the Geneva talks.
Syrian authorities released National Coordination Committee member Safwan Akkash Wednesday after detaining him Tuesday. Photo courtesy of @LebaneseInfo.
* More than 230 Syrians have been killed every day since the Geneva II peace talks began on January 22, defining this period as the most deadly three-week span since the conflict began in 2011, according to data from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published on al-Arabiya. The total death toll the last fortnight comes to just under 5,000 Syrians, among them 515 women and children, reflecting the government’s intensified campaign of barrel bombing throughout Syria—particularly Aleppo and Daraya—and the ongoing clashes between the Islamic State of Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) and rebel groups in the north, which since early January have claimed over 2,300 lives.
* In its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) reaffirmed that Syria is the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, with nearly 130 killed since the conflict began in 2011 and dozens more having disappeared or been detained by the Syrian government or extremist rebel factions. RWB stated that the political and military spillover from the Syria crisis has had a detrimental effect on press freedom and journalist safety in other Middle Eastern countries. In Lebanon, the spillover effect has deepened polarization among media outlets, prompted crackdowns on Syria-related content in Jordan and Iran, and contributed to Iraq’s descent into a new round of sectarian violence in which journalists have been targeted. RWB ranked Syria 177 of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, above only Uzbekistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
* The opposition Syrian National Coalition plans to move its main headquarters from Istanbul to Cairo, reported pro-opposition news site All4Syria Thursday. Coalition officials cited threats that they had received regarding possible attacks on the groups Istanbul headquarters, and said that the Turkish authorities had not displayed adequate concern for protecting the organization’s facilities and leadership. The plans come as the Egyptian government seeks to play a more active role in Syria diplomacy, having received Coalition head Ahmad Jarba in Cairo last weekend.
* The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) stated Wednesday that it had completed the removal of 11 percent of Syria’s chemical stockpiles. The organization noted that this was a significant increase from the previous total of 4 percent, but pointed out that Damascus has nonetheless fallen far short of the February 5 deadline to fully destroy its chemical arsenal.
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