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Syrian truce holds as delegates prep for talks

The United Nations's Syria envoy has said delegates are in Geneva for "substantive, deeper" talks between the Syrian government and opposition. Formal talks are set to begin March 14 with an aim to keep ceasefire intact.

The UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Wednesday that this week's talks between lower-level diplomats ahead of next week's peace summit will be "proximity" talks - meaning indirect talks with the warring factions in separate rooms and the envoy shuttling between them.

Since February 27, a

ceasefire between President Bashar Assad's regime and non-jihadist rebels

is part of the biggest diplomatic effort yet to curb Syria's conflict, which has killed more than 270,000 people, displaced millions and helped fuel

Europe's refugee crisis.

De Mistura says the goal is to launch substantive peace talks on Monday, and said they will focus on the core issues of governance, elections within 18 months and a new constitution.

Already, the Syrian government signaled its willingness to attend. The main opposition umbrella groups say they are still mulling whether to participate in the talks which organizers say won't be allowed to run past March 24.

Syrien Waffenstillstand

Syrian solders pose for a picture in Maarzaf, Syria on March 2, 2016 following signing a truce document earlier this month. The Russian military helped mediate the agreement and there are hopes the truce will hold.

Western diplomats to meet in Paris as guns remain quiet

Diplomats from five western powers will be holding pre-talks of their own, France's foreign ministry said. The top diplomats from Germany, France, Britain, Italy and the United States are set to meet Sunday in Paris.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said European ministers intend to ensure that the Russian air strikes in Syria are aimed only at jihadist groups such as the self-styled "Islamic State" and the Nusra Front, and not against the more moderate opposition fighters favored by some western powers.

"We must remain vigilant," Ayrault told reporters during a visit to Cairo.

The Paris meeting, which will be attended by European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, will also be used to discuss fighting in Libya, Yemen and eastern Ukraine.

jar/jil (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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