Syria: UN envoy cautions against "spoilers" on eve of negotiations

Syria: UN envoy cautions against

Opposing sides in the Syrian war came face-to-face in United Nations peace talks for the first time in three years on Thursday, to hear United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura implore them to find a way out of the nearly six-year-old conflict.

The Syrian opposition's delegation to the UN-led peace talks in Geneva confirmed that they wanted direct negotiations with the regime representatives.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura convened separate meetings with representatives of the government and opposition delegations Thursday morning.

"I'm not expecting an immediate breakthrough from this negotiation, but the beginning of a series of rounds that will be able to go much more in depth into the substantive issues", he said.

In talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, last week, Russian Federation proposed a set of constitutional changes as the starting point for negotiations.

The opposition will be represented at the talks by the High Negotiations Committee - an umbrella group of armed and political factions.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime air strikes killed 11 opposition fighters and five civilians, including a journalist in its latest attacks on Hama.

But he said the negotiations would be guided by U.N. Security Council resolution 2254, which refers to the establishment of credible and inclusive governance, the process for drafting a new constitution and free and fair elections.

During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva a year ago, the two sides never sat down at the same table, instead leaving de Mistura to shuttle between them.

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

At those talks, de Mistura had to meet separately with the opposing delegations.

He added that he also feared the role Iran would play behind the scenes. "That is why we are really fighting, not only with weapons but with all efforts that we can do, to really finish this crime in Syria", Al Meslet said.

United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attends a news conference following Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan January 24, 2017.

The opposition will press for prisoner releases, the lifting of government sieges, and above all for a political transition leading to the end of Assad's rule.

While the opposition says that the ceasefire has been repeatedly violated and that Moscow is not doing enough to enforce it, de Mistura stated: "It is still fragile, but it is holding by and large".

Despite that, the opposition still wants President Bashar al-Assad's fate to be on the agenda, something the government has refused to discuss.

He did not specifically mention the USA, which is backing the rebels.

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