GENEVA: Deputy mediator Nasser al-Kidwa has left the team running peace talks aimed at ending the war in Syria, diplomatic sources said on Monday, after repeated calls from the Syrian government for him to be removed.
"He has been sacked," one of the diplomats said.
The United Nations confirmed his departure and said he had informed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of his intention to leave his post as deputy to international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, effective this week.
Kidwa, a former foreign minister of the Palestinian authority and a nephew of Yasser Arafat, was appointed as a deputy to Brahimi's predecessor Kofi Annan in March 2012, and continued in the role under Brahimi.
His departure comes after the first week-long session of talks, chaired by Brahimi, between the Syrian government and the opposition, ended on Friday. Brahimi has asked both sides to return for more talks on. Feb 10.
Diplomats had previously said Kidwa's role was the subject of friction just before the Geneva talks began, since the delegation representing President Bashar al-Assad had asked for him to be removed.
But, as rumours swirled that he had been sidelined, Kidwa showed up, sitting behind his boss Brahimi for the day of speeches that launched the talks on Jan. 22 in Montreux.
U.N. sources and Arab diplomats said that the Damascus government had always objected to Kidwa, who was nominated by the Arab League to the joint mediation team.
"The Syrian government has always said, from the beginning, they would prefer Nasser is not there. Mostly because he used to be with Palestinian leadership," a U.N. source said.
The episode, according to a senior opposition negotiator, showed that "Brahimi's main goal is to achieve a deal. He does not care if he has to sacrifice Kidwa. He also wants to get as many concessions as possible from both sides."
Diplomats say there are no obvious candidates to replace Brahimi, 80, if he were to step down from the job of running the Syria talks.