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Syrians meet for new talks

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

BEIRUT: Syria’s government and opposition met for a seventh round of United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Geneva with little expectation of a breakthrough to end the six-year conflict.

The Geneva process has been increasingly overshadowed by a separate track organised by regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey. On Sunday, a ceasefire brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan began in southern Syria, the latest agreement reached outside the Geneva framework.

In principle, the new round of negotiations would focus on four so-called “baskets”: a new constitution, governance, elections and combating “terrorism”.

The last talks ended in May with little progress in ending a war that has killed over 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said afterwards that “important gaps remain … on major issues” and time constraints had stymied progress.

Syria’s opposition insists that President Bashar al-Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the war, but the government says Assad’s fate is not up for discussion.

Still, both sides are expected to participate once again, with Yehya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Commit­tee, saying he had “modest expectations”.

The Geneva talks began in 2014 and have continued intermittently despite a dearth of results. Since January, they have been increasingly overshadowed by a separate process held in Astana and organised by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The 3 countries agreed in May to set up four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, though they have so far failed to agree on the details necessary to implement the plan.

Meanwhile, US, Russian and Jordanian officials have agreed on a ceasefire in southern Syria which began on Sunday and covers three provinces included in one of the “de-escalation” zones. De Mistura’s deputy Ramzi Ezzedine Ramzi has said the ceasefire deal “helps create a suitable atmosphere for the talks”.

“We hope an agreement will be reached for the other areas discussed as soon as possible and this will lead to significant support for the political process,” he added.

Syria’s opposition fears that the Astana talks are a way for regime allies to control the negotiation process. By attending the Geneva talks, Aridi said, the opposition hoped to preserve the track.

“The goal is to maintain some momentum for a political solution in light of Russia’s attempts to divert attention to Astana, which it wants to design and shape as it wishes,” he said.

Syria analyst Sam Heller, writing for the Century Foundation think-tank, said the opposition and its backers viewed Geneva as “a chance for smaller tactical wins and a vessel for a possible future deal”.

“It’s also about keeping an internationally recognised political process shaped by key opposition backers, rather than ceding the negotiating space to the rival Astana negotiations track, over which Russia has presided.”

Source by: Internet

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