The Syrian regime delegation at Geneva peace talks has agreed to discuss the issue of political transition, UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura told the opposition on Wednesday, according to the head of the rebel delegation.
"We hear from de Mistura a positive thing. Due to the Russian pressure, there is acceptance to tackle the issue of... political transition," Nasr al-Hariri, head of the Syrian opposition delegation, said after meeting the UN envoy.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov also met the opposition delegation Wednesday afternoon in Geneva.
Gatilov said beforehand that he would listen to the opposition’s view of the current situation.
Russian support has been a key asset of regime leader Bashar al Assad during the six-year war. According to his opponents, political transition must involve Assad handing over power.
Wednesday's developments were the first signs of real movements in the UN-sponsored talks that got underway last week.
Russia on Tuesday called for the opposing sides in the Syrian peace talks to negotiate directly.
“Direct talks, that is what we [have been] calling for from the very beginning. Unfortunately, this has not happened until now,” Gatilov said.
Gatilov also said Moscow is open to discussions with the US over Syria.
“We are open in all contexts with the American administration and we always were constructive in finding possible ground for our common cooperation, first of all, in the fight against terrorism in Syria,” he said.
Russia denies it bombed US-backed SDF positions
In Syria, Russian and regime aircraft bombed positions held by the US-backed Syrian Arab Coalition near the town of al-Bab, inflicting casualties, the top US commander in Iraq said on Wednesday.
"Yesterday, we had some Russian aircraft and (Syrian) regime aircraft bomb some villages that I believe they thought were held by ISIS [Daesh], yet they were actually – on the ground – were some of our Syrian Arab coalition forces," Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend said.
The Syrian Arab Coalition is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are dominated by the Kurdish YPG.
Turkey considers the YPG the Syrian extension of the PKK and a terrorist group. The US administration regards the YPG as its most effective ally on the ground in the fight against Daesh.
Moscow denied the air strikes. RIA news agency said the Russian defence ministry told it that the US military provided Russia with exact coordinates of Syrian opposition forces it supports and Russia took that information into account.
"Not one strike was launched by Russian or Syrian aviation on the areas given by the American side," the Russian defence ministry said, according to RIA.
The villages where the Tuesday strikes took place were close to al-Bab and about 15 or 20 km (10 to 12 miles) from Manbij city, Townsend said.
Both sides committed war crimes in Syria
UN investigators on Wednesday said both sides committed war crimes in a report on the battle for Aleppo in 2016.
Syrian and Russian forces conducted daily air strikes on rebel-held eastern Aleppo between July and its fall on December 22, killing hundreds and destroying hospitals, they said.
Orphanages, schools and homes were "all but obliterated," panel chairman Paulo Pinheiro said.
Syrian regime aircraft bombed and strafed a humanitarian convoy, killing 14 aid workers and halting relief operations, the report said.
Opposition groups shelled government-controlled western Aleppo, killing and injuring dozens, the report said. They prevented civilians from fleeing besieged eastern Aleppo, using them as human shields - a war crime.
"The scale of what happened in Aleppo is unprecedented in the Syrian conflict. Much of Aleppo, once Syria's biggest city and its commercial and culture centre and a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been reduced to rubble," Pinheiro said.
TRT World's Shamim Chowdhury has more on the report.