'War continues' despite new constitution committee: Syria

Damascus (AFP) –

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The creation of a UN-backed constitution-writing committee for Syria does not mean the country is ending its military operations, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Tuesday.

The United Nations on Monday announced the long-awaited formation of the committee which will include the government and opposition, but it remained to be seen if the step could finally end the civil war.

The committee is to include 150 members -- a third picked by the regime, an equal number by the opposition, and the remaining third by the United Nations.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has hailed the committee as the first step toward finding a political settlement to the conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people in more than eight years of fighting.

But Muallem insisted that the formation of the committee "does not go against the military option" or prevent the continuation of "work done on the ground".

"We are determined to free up every inch of our land," he told a pro-government TV channel Tuesday, adding that the "war will continue".

"We will accept no foreign intervention in the drawing-up of our constitution," he said.

The presence of US and Turkish military on Syrian soil also risks "hindering the work of the committee," he added.

With military backing from Russia, Assad's forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and jihadists since 2015, and now control around 60 percent of the country.

Numerous rounds of UN-led peace talks have failed to end a war that has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since erupting in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

In recent years, a parallel negotiations track led by Russia and rebel backer Turkey has taken precedence.

The UN first backed the idea of a committee at a conference hosted by Russia in January 2018 but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government delayed over the makeup of the body.

Experts urged caution, questioning how much the new committee is likely to achieve with Assad's grip on power appearing to get stronger and stronger with each passing month.

The constitution-writing committee is due to meet for the first time in Geneva on October 30.

Europe and the United States have tied an estimated $400 billion on construction aid to Syria on real progress being made towards a political solution.