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UN urges Iran, Russia, Turkey to resume Syria talks in Astana

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura gestures during a press conference following a meetings on Syria peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The UN has called on Iran, Russia and Turkey to convene a fresh round of peace talks between Damascus and opposition groups in Astana, Kazakhstan, to bring the situation on the ground under control amid increasing militant attempts to break into the heart of the Syrian capital in defiance of a countrywide truce.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura was speaking Friday on the sidelines of the fifth round of Syria peace talks in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“Hence our expectations and the strong suggestion to the guarantors of the Astana process are that they do retake situation in hand, and that hopefully there will be new Astana meeting as soon as possible in order to control the situation, which at the moment is worrisome,” he said.

Since the beginning of this year, Iran, Russia and Turkey have mediated three rounds of peace negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Astana.

The first round, which took place in January, brought together representatives from the Damascus government and opposition groups for the first time during six years of conflict, paving the way for the resumption of the stalled UN-led negotiations on the Syria crisis.

The trio have agreed on the establishment of a mechanism to support the truce, underlined the importance of maintaining the national sovereignty of Syria, and stressed that there was no military solution to the conflict in the Arab country. 

De Mistura’s comments come amid fresh clashes between Syrian forces and militant groups on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus. The militants operating there have been trying to reach the heart of Damascus, but they have failed to do so in the face of stiff resistance from government forces.

On March 23, Syria wrote to the UN about the situation near Damascus, telling the world body that such militant attacks are merely meant to undermine the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva.

De Mistura further added that the UN is not expecting any breakthrough or breakdown at the ongoing indirect intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, but “incremental progress” from previous rounds.

Syrian chief negotiator and Permanent Representative to the UN, Bashar al-Ja'afari (L) shakes hands with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura upon arrival for a round of UN-backed talks at the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

“I would try to be careful about expectations like we were on the fourth round, so I am not expecting miracles, I am not expecting breakthroughs and I am not expecting breakdowns. What I am expecting is building on the fourth round, with some incremental constructive steps. Which ones? I will be able to tell you at the end of this round,” the UN Syria envoy pointed out.

De Mistura also defended proximity talks with representatives of Syria’s warring sides.

“If they were talking to each other in front, there would be two subjects at the same time. But we are in the proximity talks, in other words, they are talking to us, to me, to my colleagues and then, I can use it when we will be addressing the subject on the other side,” the top UN official noted.

The fifth round of Syria talks kicked off in Geneva on Thursday. The deputy UN special envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, separately met representatives from the Damascus government and the main opposition delegation, the High Negotiations Committee.

De Mistura, who joined Geneva peace talks on Friday, is trying to mediate a political agreement between Syria’s warring sides. The two sides have not had face-to-face meetings in four previous rounds under his auspices since early 2016. He has presided over all those rounds.

‘Daesh loses last Aleppo bastion’

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces, backed by allied fighters from popular defense groups, have recorded new territorial gains following intense battles with Daesh terrorists and other foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants across the country.

Syrian government forces walk on the eastern outskirts of Aleppo on March 8, 2017 near the town of al-Khafsah, where army soldiers retook a key water pumping station the day before. (Photo by AFP)

Syrian army soldiers took control of Dayr Hafir town, located 50 kilometers east of Aleppo, on Friday after fierce clashes with Daesh militants there.

Army units also cleared the last pockets of Nusra Front militants and members of other terror outfits in Jobar neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Damascus.

Syria’s official SANA news agency reported that government forces wrested complete control all areas that terrorists had infiltrated into between Jobar and al-Qaboun neighborhoods, inflicting heavy losses upon terrorists and destroying their munitions.

More than 157 Takfiri terrorists have been killed over the past three days as a result of military operations in northern Jobar. A total of 25 vehicles belonging to the extremists have been destroyed as well.

Additionally, Syrian soldiers targeted Daesh fortifications on the southwestern outskirts of Dayr al-Zawr, killing and injuring a number of terrorists.

Syrian troops lobbed a barrage of artillery rounds at a Daesh position on the road to Taim field, situated 16 kilometers south of Dayr al-Zawr, leaving 5 terrorists dead and several others injured.

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