New round of UN-brokered peace talks to end Syria's conflict set begin in Geneva

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura meets with the delegation of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) during Syria Peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 13, 2016.
UN mediator Staffan de Mistura meets with the delegation of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) during Syria Peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 13, 2016.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura began a new round of Syria talks on Wednesday by meeting members of the main opposition High Negotiations Committee in Geneva.

The talks aim at forming a transitional government to bring an end to the conflict which has until now claimed the lives of more than 470,000 people and fuelled the world's largest refugee crisis since World War ll.

The United Nations brokered talks are aimed at forming a transitional government.

The fate of regime head Bashar al Assad remains a stumbling block in talks as the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has held meetings with Assad's key allies Tehran and Moscow ahead of a sit-down with the High Negotiations Committee on Wednesday and expected to meet regime representatives on Friday.

An increase in ceasefire violations has threatened the landmark ceasefire agreed in February, which has piled more pressure on these talks, following two previous failed attempts to negotiate an end to the bloodshed.

"Right now, there are signs that this (the ceasefire) is slipping and it is a much more delicate environment for de Mistura to convene political talks," US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told reporters in New York after a briefing by de Mistura on Tuesday.

Russia must put pressure on the regime to get it "back with the programme", said Power, adding she was "very alarmed" by Syria's plans to launch a Russian-backed counter-offensive in Aleppo.

Critics have condemned Russia and the regime in the past for targeting schools, hospitals and other civilian based areas under the contradictory agenda of targeting DAESH.

Iran, another strategic ally of the regime, suggested concerns about UN envoy Staffan de Mistura's trip to Tehran.

As the indirect talks resume, the regime held a controversial election on Wednesday in regime-controlled areas of Syria.

Syria's parliamentary elections are a "sham" organised by "an oppressive regime," France's foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The UN and opposition groups recognise the vote as illegitimate.

Ceasefire violations

The cessation of hostilities which came into effect on February 27 had raised hopes for a resolution to the conflict, but hopes were diminished when unidentified air strikes -- speculated as acts of defiance from Russia or its regime ally -- targeted civilian areas in Syria.

Groups like Nusra Front and DAESH are excluded from the ceasefire.

Regime warplanes have carried out "unprecedented" air strikes on the rebel-held eastern parts of Aleppo city, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Civilians in fear of air strikes

"I didn't send my child to school today because I was afraid of more air strikes like in the past two days," said Ismail, a 30-year-old Aleppo resident.

Abu Mohammad fled his home in Aleppo during the peak of the Syrian air force's bombing campaign but came back when the situation improved. He now fears his return may be short-lived.

"I am preparing myself to leave the city should the bombing continue," the 38-year-old father of four said.

Washington on Monday expressed worries that an assault against Nusra Front in Aleppo may spread to moderate rebel factions, which could cause the truce to collapse and derail the peace efforts.

"We are concerned about plans to attack and seize... Aleppo when there are clearly opposition groups there that are part of the cessation of hostilities," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.

The truce has allowed increased humanitarian aid deliveries and a significant drop in civilian deaths.

"The ceasefire has been so important over the last weeks because it has given people a lot more than simply access to markets, access to assistance. It has given them hope," the World Food Programme's deputy regional head Matthew Hollingworth said in Damascus.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies