Syria Fighting Continues as UN Talks Get Under Way

Tracy FergusonFeb 25, 2017

The UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said in Geneva yesterday it is critical that the momentum provided by the negotiations "outpace" those that wished to see the negotiations come to nothing.

The upkeep of a fragile ceasefire, and the improvement of humanitarian access in the war-torn country are both seen as key factors to talks involving representatives of the Syrian government and rebel factions seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Today the United States special representative to the Syrian crisis Michael Ratney was due to attend the opening ceremony, the USA office at the UN in Geneva said.

To date, the near six-year war in Syria has claimed some 300,000 lives and displaced millions.

The lead negotiator for the Syrian opposition at peace talks in Geneva has singled out Iran as the biggest obstacle to settling the conflict in Syria.

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Contet noted that Security Council resolution 2254 asks the envoy to convene "formal negotiations on the political transition process".

In al-Bab, 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the Turkish border, Turkish troops and Syrian opposition forces were sweeping the town center for mines left over by retreating Islamic State militants, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed at the end of the first round of Astana talks in January to establish a mechanism aimed at monitoring the ceasefire that took effect across Syria on December 30, 2016.

The government delegation had earlier said it would study a paper after seeing de Mistura.

The talks are part of the latest political initiative to bring an end to a six-year war that has killed almost 500,000 people, wounded more than a million, and displaced almost half the country.

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The Syrian government has repeatedly decried Turkey's troop presence as a violation of Syrian sovereignty and an act of aggression, but the two sides have not faced off.

The attack has no direct bearing on the United Nations talks, since the IS is not part of the latest ceasefire deal, but it illustrates the lack of any return to normality for war-ravaged Syria.

The regime and opposition delegations requested time to prepare.

"We have heard from Mr.de Mistura positive ideas and suggestions, I believe he is more enthusiastic to be engaged seriously in political transition", he said.

Meanwhile, Russia announced that it has asked the Syrian government to halt all military operations for the duration of the talks, while other countries were expected to deliver the same message to the rebels. The HNC has insisted he must leave office as part of any deal, while Damascus has said the president's future is not open for negotiation.

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Russian Federation supports the creation of a government of national unity, which a senior European diplomat disparagingly said meant bringing in a few dissidents to run the ministry of sports and leaving Assad's power unchecked.

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