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Middle East

Syria peace talks kick off in Geneva amid fragile ceasefire

The UN's chief negotiator has warned warring parties that the conflict does not have a "military solution." Talks in Geneva are to focus on the political dimensions of the conflict as a nationwide ceasefire holds.

The UN envoy for Syria on Thursday welcomed government and rebel delegations in Geneva, marking the beginning of fresh peace talks aimed at ending six years of conflict in the war-torn country.

"A long, hard journey towards peace can start here today," said UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Prior to talks, Mistura met with a group of Syrian women calling for warring parties to discuss the fate of detainees and abducted people in the conflict.

"There are thousands and thousands of mothers, wives, daughters who are hoping that at least this aspect will be one of the benefits of any negotiation," the veteran diplomat told reporters.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International earlier this month reported that up to 13,000 people, "most of them civilians believed to be opposed to the government," had been executed at a prison in Saydnaya.

However, UN-backed negotiations in Geneva are expected to deal with core political questions while talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana, brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, have focused on a fragile ceasefire and armed conflict.

Militant groups, including the "Islamic State" and al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, formerly the Al Nusra Front, have been excluded from the talks.

'No military solution'

Although de Mistura cast doubt on a "breakthrough" in Geneva, he has vowed to establish momentum towards a political solution to a conflict that has displaced millions.

"There is no military solution, just a political solution. It is true today, and will be true tomorrow," de Mistura told delegations in Geneva. "Syrian people want an end to this conflict, and you know it well. They are waiting."

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since 2011, when regime forces launched a brutal campaign against protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Since then, Syria has witnessed a multifaceted conflict in which militant groups, state actors and major global powers, including the US and Russia, attempt to secure their interests in the country.

Russia's security interests

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told naval officers that their involvement in the conflict has led to greater security for their homeland.

"We have no plans to interfere in Syria's internal affairs," Putin said. "Our task is to stabilize the legitimate authority in the country and strike a decisive blow against international terrorism," he added.

Russian forces entered the conflict in September 2015 in a bid to bolster Assad's forces, effectively shifting the war's direction into Damascus' favor with the recapture of eastern Aleppo.

Watch video 01:42

'Only Assad supporters can live in Syria'

ls/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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