UN Aims to Restart Syria Peace Talks on March 9

UN Aims to Restart Syria Peace Talks on March 9UN Aims to Restart Syria Peace Talks on March 9

The United Nations will delay the next round of Syria peace talks by two days to allow the cessation of hostilities in force since Saturday to take hold, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said.

International observers have acknowledged violations of the agreement intended to halt nearly five years of fighting while reporting that the level of violence has decreased considerably.

“We are delaying it to the afternoon of (March) 9th for logistical and technical reasons, and also for the ceasefire to better settle down,” de Mistura told Reuters on Tuesday.

The talks had been penciled in for March 7.

The cessation of hostilities was “a glimmer of hope”, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, although he accused the opposition of violating the agreement.

The opposition in turn says the Syrian government has breached the fragile truce by repeatedly attacking its positions, which the government denies.

“We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” Assad told Germany’s ARD television network, adding that the Syrian Army had not reacted to truce violations to give the agreement a chance.

The cessation of hostilities agreement, drawn up by the United States and Russia, is seen by the UN as an opportunity to revive peace talks which collapsed before they had even started a month ago in Geneva.

It also hopes the truce will allow humanitarian aid to be sent into besieged areas where many Syrians are living in dire conditions.

However, the opposition said it had yet to be officially informed of a new round of talks on March 9, insisting that no serious discussions can begin before detainees are freed and blockades are lifted.

  Negotiating Table

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was an urgent need to implement the agreement and for the warring parties to return to the negotiating table, a UN statement said.

“They agreed on the importance of urgently moving forward simultaneously on implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement, providing vital humanitarian assistance to civilians, and returning to political negotiations,” the statement said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that while efforts were being made to track down alleged violations of the cessation of hostilities, there was currently no evidence to suggest they would destabilize the fragile peace.

In a telephone conversation on Tuesday, Lavrov and Kerry reaffirmed the importance of coordination, chiefly military, between Moscow and Washington to strengthen the truce, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported.

De Mistura expected to see attempts to disrupt the ceasefire, saying these needed to be contained to avoid them spreading and undermining the credibility of the truce. He wants the Syrian sides to focus on constitutional reform and governance, and hopes elections can be held in 18 months. Prisoner releases would also be “very much up front on the agenda”, he said.

Syria’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Hussam Aala said his government was cooperating over aid deliveries, including to militant-led areas. It was facilitating “access to humanitarian aid to those who need it without discrimination, between the besieged zones or zones infiltrated by terrorists”.

However, addressing the UN Human Rights Council, he also accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of financing militant groups, including the Nusra Front, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, and also rejected criticism from France.

  Militant Groups

The agreement does not include Islamic State or the Nusra Front terrorist groups, and Assad and his Russian backers have made clear they intend to keep attacking them.

The Russian Defense Ministry said it was refraining from striking areas where the “moderate opposition” was respecting the ceasefire agreement, Interfax news agency reported.

The Syrian military denied it was responsible for any violations and said operations against IS—also known as Daesh—and the Nusra Front were going ahead.

“The combat operations that the Syrian Arab Army is carrying out against Daesh and Nusra are continuing according to the plans of the military command,” a Syrian military source said.