Syrian conflict: Peace talks between Assad’s government and rebels to begin in Geneva

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UN envoy Mistura
UN envoy Steffan de Mistura has warned that peace talks “cannot fail”

According to latest reports on the Syrian conflict, peace talks between Bashar-ul-Assad’s government and rebels are due to begin in Geneva. Despite the efforts of the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, it is still unclear as to whether the opposition will take part in the talks. A few rebel leaders have demanded the air strikes to be ceased before they agree on participating in the talks.

The UN envoy will first meet the government delegation led by the country’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari who has reportedly arrived to Geneva.

In a video message to the Syrian people on Thursday, Mistura said that the talks “cannot fail”.

On Thursday, Riad Hijab, head of opposition’s High Negotiations committee (HNC) said, “tomorrow, we will not be in Geneva”.

On Friday, HNC member Hind Kabawat, said, “We can’t sit down and negotiate when our people need milk. We need to stop the sieges. We need to stop the starvation of our people.”

Following these statements there seems to be little hope of the opposition’s participation in the talks but another senior figure with the committee, Hassan Abdel Azim, said that members of the opposition were on their way to Geneva, and others would follow.

The talks are said to continue for six months.

The immediate priorities are a broad ceasefire, humanitarian aid deliveries and halting the threat posed by IS. But the ultimate aim is a peace settlement that includes a transitional period ending with elections, in line with a UN Security Council resolution approved last month.

The last talks aimed at ending the conflict broke down in February 2014 after only two rounds, with the UN blaming the government for refusing to discuss an opposition demand for Mr Assad to step down.

Despite little sign of a change in that stance, the rise of the IS group prompted the US and Russia to step up their efforts to get the warring parties back to the negotiating table.

In this context Pope Francis met with Iranian President Rouhani to discuss the importance of remembering the rights of Christians and other minorities displaced during the Syrian war. He has pleaded for the talks to remember Christians.