Latest round of Syria peace talks ends on positive note

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and head of the Syrian government delegationو Bashar al-Ja'afari, attend a meeting of intra Syria peace talks at the Palais des Nations in Geneva Switzerland

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and head of the Syrian government delegationو Bashar al-Ja'afari, attend a meeting of intra Syria peace talks at the Palais des Nations in Geneva Switzerland

A United Nations mediator is trying to wrap up talks with the Syrian government and opposition delegations with a clear agenda to guide future talks over ending the six-year civil war in Syria.

Syria's first U.N. -led peace talks in nearly a year ended on Friday without breakthrough but the United Nations mediator said the warring parties now had a clear agenda to pursue a political solution to the country's six-year-long conflict.

The parties have agreed to return to the negotiating table later in March to discuss four key issues: governance, a draft constitution, elections and counter-terrorism.

"Russia sees an opportunity here to manage the political track in a different way", said a Western diplomat.

There are still "people in Syria and outside who still believe there is a military option or a military", De Mistura warned, but called such ideas "a fantasy", confirming the UN's commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict which has been raging since March 2011, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.

This round of the UN-brokered negotiations - the first since last April - came shortly after the conclusion of the second round of the Syria peace talks, facilitated by Russia, Turkey and Iran, in the Kazakh capital Astana on February 15 and 16. "It just needs an accelerator".

Mr De Mistura said the UN-led talks had the support of key regional player Turkey, which supports the opposition, as well as Russian Federation and Iran, who are Syrian allies.

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"De Mistura's mistake was that he did not join several opposition groups into one".

Archaeologists have decried what they say is extensive damage to Palmyra's treasured ruins.

Government representatives, meanwhile, have accused the opposition of taking the talks "hostage", accusing the rebels of including members of "armed terrorist groups".

Russian media quoted Gatilov as saying the meeting had been constructive.

Syrian troops fully recaptured Palmyra on Thursday after a push that saw the militants' defences crumble and IS fighters flee in the face of artillery fire and intense Russia-backed airstrikes.

Counter-terrorism was added to the agenda at the insistence of President al-Assad's delegation, according to the UN. "The difficulty is that the opposition wants to be sure how the question of terrorism will be dealt with and in what order", one diplomat said.

The military expects the process to be long and hard due to the large number of mines planted by IS, a Syrian security official said on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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