Syria's Warring Sides Brought Together for Geneva Talks

تم نشره في Thu 23 February / Feb 2017. 01:00 AM
  • More than 300,000 people have been killed in nearly six years of fighting - (AFP)

UN-sponsored peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition are under way in Geneva for the first time in nearly a year.

The two sides will not meet face-to-face to begin with.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN's special Syria envoy, said on Wednesday he was "not expecting a breakthrough".

The opposition is insisting that the fate of President Bashar Assad is on the agenda - something the government has refused to discuss.

At least 300 thousand people have been killed since the war began in 2011. More than 4.8m have fled the country and a further 6.3m have been displaced inside Syria itself.

While hopes of a breakthrough at the talks are low, much has changed since the last round broke down in April 2016.

The rebels lost their key bastion of East Aleppo to government forces in December and a nationwide ceasefire (barring certain jihadist groups) has been largely holding for the past several weeks.

The ceasefire was orchestrated by Turkey, one of the main backers of the rebels, and Russia, Syria's ally. Both powers have also sponsored recent rounds of talks between the government and rebels in Kazakhstan, aimed at shoring up the truce.

Any major violation of the fragile ceasefire could derail the process, UN diplomats have warned.

As the negotiations began, Syrian warplanes carried out air strikes in Deraa and Hama provinces, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group said.

Mr de Mistura said Russia had asked the Syrian government to halt its aerial bombardment during the talks, and the SOHR said the level of violence on Thursday was less than in recent days.