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Middle East

UN envoy doubts 'breakthrough' at Syria peace talks

The UN-brokered Syria peace talks are set to resume in Geneva on Thursday. But with a fragmented opposition, Staffan de Mistura questioned how much progress could be made in the initial talks.

Talks to end Syria's six-year conflict restart in Geneva on Thursday. They will be the first United Nations-mediated negotiations on Syria in almost a year, during which time the geopolitical and military situations have massively changed.

Despite these changes, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura on Wednesday cast doubt on a "breakthrough" ahead of the discussions.

"Am I expecting a breakthrough? No, I am not expecting a breakthrough," de Mistura told reporters in Geneva. "But I am expecting and determined to keep a very pro-active momentum."

The veteran diplomat said that Moscow had asked the Syrian regime to halt bombings during the talks.

Russia entered the conflict in September 2015 in support of Syrian government forces, and was considered a key diplomatic ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime long before military intervention.

"Russia announced to everyone that they have formally asked the Syrian government to silence their own skies during the talks," de Mistura said.

The talks are expected to be framed by UN Security Council resolution 2254, which describes the establishment of "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance" in Syria.

Watch video 02:04

Geneva: Syrian peace talks to resume

Fragmented opposition

The upcoming round comes nearly a year after peace talks broke down when the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a Saudi-backed alliance of rebel groups, walked away from the negotiating table.

Since then, government forces backed by Russia and Shiite militias have recaptured the former rebel bastion of eastern Aleppo. Islamist militant groups have also attacked so-called moderate rebels in a sign of a fracturing opposition movement.

"The obstacles are clear and one of them is that there is no advance in consolidating the ceasefire," said HNC adviser Yehya Aridi, referring to an agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for Assad to step down.

"I have never seen a war so cruel in my life," De Mistura, who has worked on conflict resolution for the UN for decades, said earlier this week.

Watch video 06:42

UNHCR chief: 'We need a political settlement'

rs, ls/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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