Syria will hold a presidential election in 18 months, Russia's RIA news agency on Friday quoted the United Nations peace mediator on Syria Staffan de Mistura as saying.
The starting point for the election will be the latest round of Syria peace talks which are planned for March 14 in Geneva, de Mistura told RIA in an interview.
The renewed peace talks are coinciding with the fifth anniversary of a conflict that began with protests against Bashar al Assad before devolving into a multi-sided civil war that has drawn in foreign governments and allowed the growth of DAESH terrorism in Syria and Iraq.
The biggest sticking point in the peace talks remains the fate of Assad, who Turkey, Western and Gulf Arab governments insist must go at the end of a transition period envisioned under a roadmap hammered out in Vienna last year by major powers.
On the other hand, Assad's backers Russia and Iran say Syrians themselves must decide on the future of Assad.
The war-torn country has currently been experimenting with a fragile cessation of hostilities since Feb. 27 following a major agreement brokered by the US and Russia.
Fighting in Syria has slowed considerably since the "cessation of hostilities agreement" came into force, but an actual peace deal and proper ceasefire still remain elusive.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency at the UN's offices in Geneva on Thursday, de Mistura also said he welcomed the “legitimate” demand by the opposition for the release of prisoners held by the regime,
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, more than 65,000 people, majority civilians, have been forcibly abducted in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. The main abductor was the regime.
The High Negotiations Committee has called for the release of detainees while focusing especially on women and children, which are held by the Syrian regime, a list of more than 170 political prisoners has also been submitted.
“Those demands are legitimate,” Staffan de Mistura said, adding he has raised the prisoner issue several times with the Syrian government.
Turning to the central issue of lack of humanitarian aid in Syria, de Mistura said the UN failed to reach any besieged areas last year but since the cessation of hostilities came into force last month, ten of the 18 besieged areas had been relieved.
“The cessation of hostilities certainly helped otherwise we would not have reached 135,000 people [and] 10 out of 18 besieged areas have been reached,” he said.
These and other remaining besieged areas would be prioritized for relief once a “substantial” agreement is reached at the Geneva negotiations, he added.
“Of the five years of conflict, some of these areas have been besieged for more than three years... that is why we will continue pushing... because we see that some results have been taking place but it is not enough,” he said.
The United Nations hopes the agreement, which is less binding than a formal ceasefire and was not directly signed by the warring sides in Syria, can precede a more formal ceasefire.
Nearly 470,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war started five years ago between the Assad regime and opposition forces following the Arab Spring movement that swept a number of countries in the Middle-East and North Africa.