Monday 19 March 2018

Fighting rages in Syria as UN struggles to kickstart talks

Staffan de Mistura. (AP)
Staffan de Mistura. (AP)

John Irish and Tom Miles

The United Nations struggled to fan peace talks into life yesterday but in Syria fighting raged as Damascus, aided by Russian airstrikes, pressed on with a major onslaught against rebels.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the formal start two days ago of the Geneva negotiations, the first attempt in two years to negotiate an end to a war that has killed 250,000 people, driven a huge wave of refugees and empowered Isil.

But both opposition and government representatives have since said talks have not even begun.

"It seems the first phase of preparations (for talks) will take a much longer time than expected," government delegation chief Bashar al-Ja'afari said yesterday.

"The official discussions did not take off yet, unfortunately. We are still discussing how to proceed."

Mr Ja'afari said the government was still unclear on who it would be negotiating with from the fragmented opposition side.

Mr de Mistura said on Tuesday the process could collapse but it was essential to get it going.

"If there is a failure this time after we tried twice at conferences in Geneva, for Syria there will be no more hope. We must absolutely try to ensure that there is no failure," he said.

The opposition's chief coordinator Riad Hijab, who diplomats say is a unifying figure for the disparate rebel side, has arrived in Geneva.

But the opposition cancelled a meeting with Mr de Mistura on Tuesday, accusing Russia of putting the process at risk with an "unprecedented" bombing campaign on Aleppo and Homs.

"The level of confidence between both sides is close to zero," Mr de Mistura said.

Irish Independent

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