AFP | British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond speaks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, November 10, 2015
Iranian President Rouhani claimed that Iranians are misunderstood when they shout “Death to America.” They mean the country, not the people. Get it?
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that chants of ''Death to America'' frequently heard during Iranian rallies and similar statements made by the Islamic Republic’s leaders “should not be taken personally.”
In an excerpt of an interview to be broadcast Sunday evening on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Rouhani told host Steve Kroft that the slogan – shouted weekly at Friday prayer services and at public events in Iran – is not an attack on the American people and not a real death wish for Americans, but, rather, a protest against US policies, which are “against the interests of the Iranian people.”
“When the Iranian people rose up against the Shah,” Rouhani said, referring to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, “the United States aggressively supported the Shah until the last moments. In the eight-year-old war with Iraq [1980-1988], the Americans supported [then-President] Saddam [Hussein].”
“People will not forget these things. We cannot forget the past,” he stated.
The Iranian president also claimed that Iran was not eager for war. “Our people respect the American people,” he said.
In an interview with Iranian state-run TV last Tuesday, however, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, Lieutenant-Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), boasted that the Islamic Republic has the ability to reach any target within a 3,000-km range, specifically mentioning American army bases in the Middle East
“Any US airbase whose airplanes can reach the Iranian airspace, as well as, their aircraft carriers can be targeted by Iran’s unique high-precision-striking ballistic missiles and drones ,” Salami declared, adding that it would be “almost impossible” to intercept these projectiles.
Only days after the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asserted: “Our policy against the arrogant US government will not change at all.”
Khamenei’s address, which was delivered at a mosque and recorded by Iranian TV, reportedly received wide applause accompanied by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” which the Supreme Leader affirmed to be the “slogans of Iran.”
US secretary of State John Kerry, in defense of the Iran nuclear deal, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 28: “I don’t believe they’ve said that. I think they’ve said ‘Death to America’ in their chants, but I have not seen this specific.”
Kerry conceded that Iran has “great enmity” towards America. However, “I have no specific knowledge of a plan by Iran to actually destroy us.”
By: United with Israel Staff
Arab foreign ministers condemned attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran and warned on Sunday that the country would face wider opposition if it continued its “interference” in the internal affairs of Arab states.
Tensions between the Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim Iran have escalated since Saudi authorities executed Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Jan. 2, triggering outrage among Shi’ites across the Middle East.
In response, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad, prompting Riyadh to sever relations. Tehran then cut all commercial ties with Riyadh, and banned pilgrims from travelling to Mecca. Other Arab countries have downgraded ties or recalled envoys to Iran in solidarity with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said following an emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo that cutting commercial and diplomatic ties was a first step, and that his country would discuss potential further actions against Iran with its regional and international allies. He gave no further details.
If Iran continues to support “terrorism, sectarianism and violence”, it would face opposition from all Arab countries, Jubeir told a news conference following the meeting.
Jubeir confirmed that some countries had offered to mediate in the dispute but suggested that such efforts were unlikely to make any progress.
“With regards to mediation, there are some states that have expressed their readiness to conduct this, but the important thing is seriousness with regards to the Iranian position,” he said.
In a closing statement distributed after the meeting, the Arab League also referred to the reported discovery by Bahrain of a militant group that it said was backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
All members of the Arab League voted in favour of the statement, with the exception of Lebanon, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah is a powerful political force.
The statement did not agree on any specific joint measures against Iran but set up a smaller committee comprising the Arab League secretary general and representatives from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to follow up on the row.
They are expected to meet again on Jan. 25 in the UAE, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi said at the news conference.
As U.S. President Barack Obama’s two-term presidency nears its end, The Atlantic on Thursday published a detailed analysis of his performance by Jeffrey Goldberg, including excerpts of the American leader’s comments regarding his policies in the Middle East.
If it wasn’t clear until now, Obama’s failure to achieve his goals in the region is evident in his expression of disappointment on several fronts. For example, asked what he had hoped to achieve with his Cairo speech in 2009 – which, Goldberg writes, expressed sympathy for the Palestinians and “complicated his relations with Netanyahu, especially because Obama had also decided to bypass Jerusalem on his first presidential visit to the Middle East” – the president said:
“My argument was this: ‘Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel. We want to work to help achieve statehood and dignity for the Palestinians, but I was hoping that my speech could trigger a discussion, could create space for Muslims to address the real problems they are confronting—problems of governance, and the fact that some currents of Islam have not gone through a reformation that would help people adapt their religious doctrines to modernity. My thought was, I would communicate that the U.S. is not standing in the way of this progress, that we would help, in whatever way possible, to advance the goals of a practical, successful Arab agenda that provided a better life for ordinary people.”
Goldberg recalls Obama saying in 2011, in a speech at the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, that “after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
“But over the next three years, as the Arab Spring gave up its early promise, and brutality and dysfunction overwhelmed the Middle East, the president grew disillusioned. Some of his deepest disappointments concern Middle Eastern leaders themselves. Benjamin Netanyahu is in his own category: Obama has long believed that Netanyahu could bring about a two-state solution that would protect Israel’s status as a Jewish-majority democracy, but is too fearful and politically paralyzed to do so.”
“Obama has also not had much patience for Netanyahu and other Middle Eastern leaders who question his understanding of the region,” the author recounts. “In one of Netanyahu’s meetings with the president, the Israeli prime minister launched into something of a lecture about the dangers of the brutal region in which he lives, and Obama felt that Netanyahu was behaving in a condescending fashion, and was also avoiding the subject at hand: peace negotiations. Finally, the president interrupted the prime minister: ‘Bibi, you have to understand something,’ he said. ‘I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.’”
Turkish President Recep Tayypi Erdogan, among other Middle Eastern leaders, “also frustrates him immensely,” the author adds. “Early on, Obama saw Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, as the sort of moderate Muslim leader who would bridge the divide between East and West—but Obama now considers him a failure and an authoritarian, one who refuses to use his enormous army to bring stability to Syria.”
It seems that Obama initially misjudged Erdogan. Other apparent failures in the Obama strategy mentioned in the overview include decisions regarding Syria and Egypt, which disappointed allies and weakened American influence in the Middle East and globally. Those frustrated with American policy under Obama’s leadership included, for example, French Prime Minister Manual Valls, who said that U.S. inaction in Syria came as a “great surprise” and “created a monster.”
Another cited point of disagreement between Obama and Netanyahu concerns the Iran nuclear deal. “This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu,” Obama told Goldberg in an earlier interview, insisting that he would have struck Iran’s nuclear facilities “if he saw them “break out.” As Goldberg explains, “Netanyahu wanted Obama to prevent Iran from being capable of building a bomb, not merely from possessing a bomb.”
Among a number of reports regarding the Islamic Republic’s blatant disregard of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Fars news agency said Wednesday that its military test-fired two ballistic missiles at a target some 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) away, with the phrase “Israel must be wiped out” written on them.
By: Atara Beck, United with Israel
AFP/File | People take part in a pro-Palestinian demonstration on October 10, 2015 in Paris, calling for a boycott of Israel and for the recognition of the State of Palestine
Hazem Bader / AFP | A masked Palestinian hurls rocks towards Israeli soldiers during clashes following the funeral of Mohammed Fares al-Jaabari in the center of the West Bank town of Hebron on October 10, 2015
A pregnant Palestinian mother and her toddler daughter were killed in an Israeli retaliatory air strike on Gaza Sunday, as violence between Israelis and Palestinians threatened to spiral out of control.
Nur Hassan, 30, and her daughter Rahaf Hassan, 2, were killed when their house in northern Gaza Strip sector Zeitun was demolished by the Israeli attack, medics said, with three others still trapped under the ruins.
Israel said it had targeted "two Hamas weapon manufacturing facilities" in response to two rocket launches at Israel during Saturday, as well as a number of attempts by Palestinians to violently break into Israel from Gaza.
One of the rockets had hit an open field in southern Israel and the other was intercepted, while nine Palestinians were killed during the border clashes with Israeli soldiers.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmud Abbas have sought to avoid an escalation, frustrated Palestinian youths have defied efforts to restore calm and a wave of stabbings has spread fear in Israel.
Gaza had been mainly calm amid the week's unrest elsewhere, but the recent clashes, rockets and air strike exacerbated fears that a wider Palestinian uprising, or intifada, could erupt.
The Friday border clashes came as Hamas's chief in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, called the overall violence an intifada and urged further unrest.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, remains deeply divided from Abbas's West Bank-based Fatah.
Abbas as well as Netanyahu meanwhile spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry, each putting the blame for the situation on the other.
Netanyahu said he told Kerry he expected the Palestinian Authority to stop its "wild and mendacious incitement, which is causing the current wave of terrorism".
And Abbas said he reiterated the need for Israeli authorities to stop giving cover to "settler provocations, carried out under the army's protection".
Kerry had shared his "deep concern" over the violence in separate conversations with the two, his office said in a statement, and "stressed the importance of upholding the status quo in word and deed at the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and of preventing inflammatory rhetoric and actions that will increase tensions."
Rioting and funeral clashes
Rioting has shaken annexed east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, with Palestinians throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli security forces, who have responded with live fire, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.
Clashes rocked West Bank cities Ramallah and Bethlehem on Saturday.
In Hebron, a Palestinian wounded in clashes with Israeli forces on Thursday died on Saturday night.
Medical sources identified him as Ibrahim Awad, 28, from Beit Umar, a village north of the southern West Bank city.
Clashes erupted after the Saturday funeral of a 22-year-old Palestinian in east Jerusalem's Shuafat refugee camp, and one Palestinian who tried to throw a firebomb at security forces was shot in the leg, police said.
Two more stabbings
Meanwhile, there were more stabbing attacks, which have spread fear among Israelis.
On Saturday morning, a Palestinian teenager stabbed and wounded two ultra-Orthodox Jews, aged 62 and 65, outside the Old City's Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, police and medics said.
Police said they shot and killed 16-year-old Ishak Badran, of Kafr Aqeb in east Jerusalem.
Hours later in the same area, a 19-year-old also from Kafr Aqeb stabbed two police officers before himself being shot dead.
The stabbing victims in the second attack were in a "moderate" condition, medics said, with a third seriously wounded after being shot by another officer targeting the assailant.
Fourteen stabbing attacks have targeted Jews since October 3, when a Palestinian murdered two Israelis in the Old City, sparking a security crackdown.
One revenge stabbing has occurred, with a 17-year-old Jew in the southern Israeli city of Dimona wounding two Palestinians and two Arab Israelis on Friday.
Netanyahu quickly condemned that attack, a sign of concerns that it could trigger further violence.
Abbas has spoken out against violence and in favour of "peaceful, popular resistance", but many Palestinian youths are frustrated with his leadership.
Israeli police have struggled to prevent demonstrations among the country's Arab population from deteriorating into violence.
Dozens of Arabs were arrested for throwing stones and firebombs at police and traffic, in a number of demonstrations throughout northern and central Israel.
Netanyahu announced Saturday he had ordered the emergency call-up of three reserve border police companies to reinforce officers in east Jerusalem and throughout Israel.
A video still showing the site of an airstrike in Idlib Province in Syria on Thursday. Credit Hadi Al-Abdallah, via Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The already fragmented battlefield in Syria grew even more complicated on Friday, as Russia and Iran expanded their military efforts to defend the beleaguered Syrian government in defiance of President Obama, who predicted that their actions would lead only to a “quagmire.”
In his first comments since Russia began airstrikes on Syrian targets this week, Mr. Obama said that Moscow was acting “not out of strength but out of weakness.” Bristling at criticism of his own Syria policy, he rejected domestic opponents who offer “half-baked ideas” that amount to “a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”
“An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the White House on Friday, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a longtime ally of both Russia and Iran. “And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.”
Neither Russia nor Iran showed signs of listening. While Moscow widened its airstrikes to hit Islamic State territory for the first time, Russian troops have unloaded a major long-range artillery system to add more firepower to its deployment in Syria, according to an American official. At the same time, American officials said Iran had sent additional ground troops to bolster Mr. Assad’s government.
Mr. Obama was left to confront a deteriorating situation over which he seemed to have even less control than before. In New York, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the foreign minister of Iran without any apparent breakthrough, while American allies from Europe and the Middle East publicly called on Russia to stop bombing the moderate Syrian opposition to Mr. Assad.
The president said that his program to select, train and arm Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, had failed in part because he had insisted they battle only the militants — and not also focus on toppling Mr. Assad’s government. “I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to,” he said. Instead, he said the United States wanted to work more closely with Kurdish allies who have enjoyed some success against the Islamic State to see “if we can built on that.”
But he repeated his conclusion that there was no military solution to the long-running fratricidal war, only a political settlement that has to end with Mr. Assad’s departure from power.
“The problem here is Assad and the brutality he’s inflicted on the Syrian people,” Mr. Obama said. While the United States will work with “all parties” to broker a transition, he said, “we are not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior.”
Russia expanded its bombings on Friday, saying its warplanes struck seven targets, including a command post and training camp near Raqqa, the northeast Syrian city that the Islamic State has converted into the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. Until now, Russia had hit territory that was not dominated by ISIS but, in some cases, where American-supported rebels were located.
Russia seemed intent on adding more capacity with the delivery of a potent rocket system called Smerch. American intelligence analysts also have detected Russian military advisers pushing east to Hama, erecting tents at an equestrian club, although the purpose was unclear.
Similarly, Iran was reinforcing its own presence in Syria. American officials said 300 to 600 Iranian troops had arrived in recent days, augmenting some 1,500 who have been in Syria for months along with more than 5,000 militia fighters from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group allied with Iran that has played an increasingly important role defending government territory.
Western diplomats at the United Nations expressed concern that the Russian strikes will only embolden Mr. Assad, making any political settlement more difficult. For Arab allies in particular, one such diplomat said, it would be impossible to enter into political talks without resolving that Mr. Assad would go after a transitional government.
“It’s very important we don’t leave this question mark open,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address relations between allies
Some of those regional allies joined the United States and Europe in Friday’s statement condemning Russian actions and urging Moscow to focus any strikes on the Islamic State. “These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization,” said the statement, signed by the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Mr. Kerry met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, who was in New York for the United Nations meeting. The State Department said that the Zarif meeting focused on the recent nuclear agreement, but an Iranian official suggested that Syria also came up. Mr. Kerry also met with Yusuf bin Alawi, the foreign minister of Oman, which was a central intermediary with Iran leading to the nuclear deal.
Syria welcomed Russia’s help on Friday. Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, said the Russian operations were part of an effort to fight terrorism, and he ridiculed Western advocacy for political changes during such a battle.
“Syria cannot implement any democratic political measures related to elections, a constitution or the like while terrorism is striking at home and threatens innocent civilians in the country,” he said. He castigated the West and Arab states for failing to stop the influx of foreign jihadists into Syria, blaming the alliance for creating the crisis. “Our vision proved to be correct,” he said.
The Syrian minister’s presence at the United Nations this week created some awkward moments for Mr. Kerry, who will not directly engage him. When Mr. Kerry walked into a meeting room Wednesday evening and saw Mr. Moallem speaking with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, the secretary quickly left, according to two diplomats.
The Russian strikes also preoccupied a separate summit meeting in Paris on Friday meant to deal with another crisis involving Moscow, the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. President François Hollande of France spoke with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for an hour about Syria before the broader meeting.
At a news conference afterward, Mr. Hollande said he told Mr. Putin that any solution in Syria “must include the departure of Bashar al-Assad” and that the Russian airstrikes should only target ISIS. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said “the solution must take into account the interest of the opposition. We need a solution after 250,000 dead.”
Syrians on Friday confronted the damage after airstrikes on the rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital, Damascus. CreditAbd Doumany/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In Moscow on Friday, the Defense Ministry said its warplanes hit an ISIS training camp near the town of Maaden Jedid and a command post near Kasert-Faraj, both southwest of Raqqa.
The Russians also reportedly hit Qaryatayn, south of Homs, according to Mayadeen TV, a Lebanese channel close to the Damascus government. ISIS forces captured the town recently and are still holding some Assyrian Christian hostages there.
The other four areas that Syrian state TV reported being hit by Russian forces were known to be controlled by rebel groups other than ISIS. The Russian Navy meanwhile deployed the missile cruiser Moscow to defend Russian planes stationed near Latakia, according to Interfax.
Mr. Obama, who met with Mr. Putin in New York on Monday, excoriated him on Friday.
“Mr. Putin had to go into Syria not out of strength but out of weakness, because his client Mr. Assad was crumbling,” Mr. Obama said. Making no distinction between the Islamic State and other rebel groups is a “recipe for disaster” that would “turbocharge ISIL recruitment and jihadist recruitment,” he added.
Clearly frustrated by assertions that Mr. Putin had gotten the upper hand, Mr. Obama said the Russians were the ones who were isolated. “Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment,” he said. “The rest of the world makes up ours.”
He dismissed critics of his policy. “When I hear people offering up half-baked ideas as if they are solutions or trying to downplay the challenges involved in the situation, what I’d like to see people ask is, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do and how would you fund it and how would you sustain it?” he said. “And typically, what you get is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.”
In response to a reporter, he strained to explain that he did not mean his former secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who just Thursday backed a no-fly zone in Syria, a policy he has rejected. But he suggested her view was a campaign position.
“Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems,” Mr. Obama said. “But I also think that there’s a difference between running for president and being president.”
Screengrab of a video of Baghdadi speaking to supporters in Iraq, released by the IS group in July, 2014
The Iraqi air force on Sunday claimed it had hit the convoy of Islamic State (IS) group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike in the western Anbar province, close to the Syrian border. The condition of the militant leader remains unknown.
"The Iraqi air force carried out a heroic operation targeting the convoy of the criminal terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," Iraq's security forces said in a statement, without clarifying when the alleged air strike took place.
“[The] fate of murderer al Baghdadi is unknown and he was carried away by a vehicle. His health condition is still unclear,” it said.
The military said the air force bombed the convoy as it moved towards Karabla, barely five kilometres from the border with Syria, where Baghdadi was planning to meet IS group commanders.
“The location of the meeting was also bombed and many of the group’s leaders were killed and wounded,” the military said.
Iraqi security sources have in the past claimed that Baghdadi has been injured or killed in air strikes, but those claims have either been denied or never been verified.
The IS group has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq and in June declared a caliphate over territory it controls. Baghdadi said he had accepted oaths of allegiance from supporters in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.
(DailyGlobeWatch with AFP, REUTERS)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared on Friday that he would not negotiate with armed groups, appearing to scupper peace talks that Russia and the United States hope to bring about next month.
Washington helped broker an agreement reached on Thursday by more than 100 members of Syria's opposition parties and more than a dozen rebel fighting groups ranging from Islamists to Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups - but not Islamic State - to send a joint team to meet the government under U.N. auspices next month.
The initiative is driven at least partly by their focus on defeating a common enemy in the form of Islamic State, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and is increasingly ordering or inspiring attacks on the West and Russia.
But in an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, Assad said he would not hold political talks with any armed groups, and accused Washington and its ally Saudi Arabia of wanting "terrorist groups" to join negotiations.
He said Syria had had contact with armed groups for one reason only: "to reach a situation where they give up their armaments and either join the government or go back to their normal life ... This is the only way to deal with the militants
"There's no point in meeting in New York or anywhere else without defining terrorist groups," he said. "For us, in Syria, everyone who holds a machinegun is a terrorist."
Foreign ministers of countries opposed to Assad are due to meet in Paris on Monday to prepare for talks with Russia and Middle Eastern countries in New York on Thursday with a specific focus on trying to form the opposition delegation for the peace talks.
Before Assad's remarks were published, Washington said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Moscow on Tuesday for talks with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The experience of a failed peace conference in Switzerland two years ago had kept expectations for the latest push low.
Demands that Assad leave
The rebel groups issued a statement at the end of their two-day conference in Riyadh saying Assad should leave power at the start of a transitional period, and calling for an
all-inclusive, democratic civic state.
Although the demand goes beyond what Western powers are calling for, it is rejected by Assad's patrons Russia and Iran.
At one point on Friday, Putin appeared to hold out an olive branch to the West, making what appeared to be Russia's first explicit statement of support for rebels opposed to Assad in the fight against Islamic State.
At an annual meeting at the Defence Ministry, he said the Free Syrian Army was engaged in "offensive actions against terrorists, alongside regular forces, in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Raqqa".
"We support it from the air, as well as the Syrian army, we assist them with weapons, ammunition and provide material support." he said.
But FSA groups dismissed any suggestion of Russian support.
Russian air strikes have targeted a number of FSA groups in western Syria, notably factions that have received military support from Assad's foreign enemies, including anti-tank missiles. A senior Western diplomat said only about 20 percent of Russian strikes had been aimed at Islamic State.
A few hours later, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to repeat Putin's assertion, saying: "Russia supplies weapons to the legitimate authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic."
Asked whether Putin had been talking about supplying FSA groups, he added: "Please do not cling to meanings in this case. Such an interpretation is possible."
Meanwhile, Islamic State claimed a triple truck bomb attack that killed dozens of people in a part of northeastern Syria where Kurdish YPG forces have been pushing back the Islamist militants in recent weeks.
The YPG has been the most effective partner on the ground in Syria for the U.S.-led coalition that is pounding Islamic State from the air.
But it operates only in northern Syria, and is distrusted by other rebel groups, which shut it out of the Riyadh conference along with the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, fighting alongside other rebels against Assad in western Syria.
Differences also remain between the groups that did attend, with many fighters considering Damascus-based political opposition figures to be too close to Assad - the same reason the YPG was excluded.
The United Nations says the war has left 13.5 million Syrians in need of help and protection, including 400,000 living under siege and 4.5 million in areas that are hard for humanitarian assistance to reach.