Syria peace talks resume after ceasefire

Syria peace talks resume after ceasefire

Syria peace talks resume after ceasefire Syria’s government and opposition meet on July 10 for a seventh round of UN-sponsored peace talks with little expectation of a breakthrough to end the six-year conflict.

The talks in Geneva open after a ceasefire took effect in three provinces in southern Syria on Sunday, with a monitor reporting that the region was mostly quiet despite scattered violations.

The ceasefire was brokered by the United States, Russia and Jordan, the latest agreement reached outside the Geneva framework.

The peace process in the Swiss city has been increasingly overshadowed by a separate track organized by regime allies Russia and Iran, and rebel backer Turkey.

In principle, the new round of Geneva negotiations will focus on four so-called “baskets”: a new constitution, governance, elections and combating “terrorism.”

As he arrived for the talks on July 10, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters: “We will work very hard.”

The last talks ended in May with little progress towards ending a war that has killed more than 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.

De Mistura said after that round that “important gaps remain... on major issues,” and that time constraints had stymied progress.

Syria’s opposition insists that President Bashar al-Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the war, but the government says Assad’s fate is not up for discussion.

Still, both sides are expected to participate once again, with Yehya al-Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee, telling AFP he had “modest expectations.”

The Geneva talks began in 2014, and have continued intermittently despite a dearth of results.

Since January, they have been increasingly overshadowed by the separate process organized by Russia, Iran and Turkey in the Kazakh capital Astana.

The three countries agreed in May to set up four “de-escalation zones” in Syria, although they have so far failed to agree details necessary to implement the plan.

The ceasefire in southern Syria covers three provinces included in one of the “de-escalation” zones.

De Mistura’s deputy Ramzi Ezzedine Ramzi has said the ceasefire deal “helps create a suitable atmosphere for the talks.”

“We hope that an agreement will be reached for the other areas that have been discussed as soon as possible and this will lead to significant support for the political process,” he added.