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UN envoy holds ‘substantial’ talks with Syrian FM

Updated April 15, 2019

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Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Walid Muallem meets United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen in Damascus. — AFP
Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Walid Muallem meets United Nations Special Envoy Geir Pedersen in Damascus. — AFP

DAMASCUS: The UN envoy for Syria held “substantial” talks on Sunday in Damascus with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on efforts to find a political settlement to the country’s eight-year-long war.

“We have had very detailed substantial discussions,” Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen told reporters after the meeting.

“We are now addressing all the issues so all the issues are at the table,” he said, without specifying.

The envoy said he was set to hold more talks with Syrian officials later in the day.

“Let’s see how we are able to proceed later this afternoon,” he added.

State news agency SANA said Pedersen and Muallem discussed ongoing efforts to advance Syria’s political process, including moves to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution.

They also spoke about the envoy’s diplomatic activities since his last visit to Damascus in March, SANA added.

Pedersen arrived in Damascus on Saturday, in his third official visit to the country since assuming his post in January. He became the fourth UN negotiator aiming to resolve Syria’s conflict following the resignation of his predecessor Staffan de Mistura.

Since early January, he has travelled extensively to meet with the government, opposition and others.

The UN Security Council remains deeply divided over the way forward in Syria.

Veto-wielding Russia, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts through the so-called Astana group with Iran and Turkey that has largely sidelined UN diplomacy. Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since the conflict began with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

The regime has made a military comeback with Russian military support since 2015, and now holds almost two-thirds of the country.

Rockets kill six civilians

Rockets fired by jihadists on Sunday killed at least six civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, which is held by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, state news agency SANA reported.

Aleppo is located in the north of the country next to Idlib, a province dominated by Syria’s former Al Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Since the regime regained control of Aleppo at the end of 2016, the city has been targeted intermittently by jihadists and rebel fighters.

SANA said the rockets fired by “terrorist groups” killed six people and wounded seven in neighbourhoods of Aleppo, using its terminology for jihadists and rebels.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the rockets were fired by jihadist groups, notably HTS.

Published in Dawn, April 15th, 2019