New peace talks on Syria begin in Geneva

The previous round made little progress with no sign of compromise over the thorniest issue, the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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It comes as Syrians in government-held parts of the country vote in a parliamentary election.

Russia and the United States disagree on Bashar al-Assad’s future but have jointly pressed the Syrian government and the opposition to attend the indirect peace talks.

United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is leading a new round of indirect talks with opposing sides in Geneva.

Ahead of the arrival of the Syrian government delegation (fri), Mr de Mistura has met the opposition coalition known as the High Negotiations Committee.

He says informal talks with the group touched on reports a partial truce brokered earlier this year is being violated.

“I did raise — and by the way I raised it in each capital — my concern about the deterioration in some places of the security situation, but they have been still incidents and not a bushfire. Therefore we consider, and I have been discussing it with all concerned, that in spite of several and serious incidents, the cessation of hostilities is still holding.”

High Negotiation Committee spokesman Assad Al Zubi says the truce has not been maintained by the Syrian government.

“Syrians dreamt of having an hour, even of a few minutes to have a drink of water during this truce, away from killing and bloodshed. But the regime did not grant them that. It committed more than 2,000 breaches of the truce. In the month of March alone, the regime dropped 420 barrel bombs.”

Speaking during his annual address on the state of human rights worldwide, United States Secretary of state John Kerry has urged all parties to the conflict to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire.

“Given the horrors of these past five years, I cannot imagine a more powerful blow for human rights, than putting a decisive end to this war, to the terror, to the repression, and especially to the torture, to the indiscriminate bombing. And thereby make possible a new beginning for the Syrian people.”

The talks come as Syrians in government-held areas vote in a parliamentary election.

It is the second election held by the government in wartime: Mr Assad was re-elected president in 2014.

Voters are to elect 250 MPs to parliament, which has no real power in Syria’s presidential system.

The Syrian opposition says the vote is illegitimate, while Britain and France dismissed it as a “flimsy facade” and a “sham”.

Speaking as he cast his vote, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Syria’s national identity remains intact.

“We’re in a war that has lasted five years. And the war is not just about terrorism. It’s true that terrorism has been enabled by the destruction of a lot of infrastructure, and terrorism has been enabled by the shedding of a lot of blood. But it was not enabled by the original aim of the destruction of the principal infrastructure in Syria — the social, identity and national infrastructure.”