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Middle East france 24

UN peace talks falter as Syrian civil war rages on

© George Ourfalian, AFP | Archival pictures shows Syrian army tank in the province of Aleppo

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-02-04

The United Nations on Wednesday struggled to save peace talks aimed at stopping nearly five years of bloody civil war in Syria as government forces seized key territory near the northern city of Aleppo.

The UN special envoy for Syria announced that the indirect negotiations in Geneva were on a "temporary pause" until February 25.

"There's more work to be done," Staffan de Mistura, who announced talks were officially underway two days ago, told reporters.

The halt came as Syrian army forces broke through rebel defences to reach two Shi’ite villages in Aleppo province. Rebels said the breakthrough came after hundreds of bombing raids by Russian warplanes.

Aleppo factions, reeling from an “unprecedented” onslaught, issued an ultimatum to the opposition delegation late on Tuesday in Switzerland.

They threatened to bring down the peace negotiations within three days unless the offensive by government and Russian forces ended.

Government delegation chief Bashar al-Ja’afari on Wednesday told Reuters that it remained unclear who was representing the fragmented opposition at the negotiating table.

The talks are the first attempt in two years to negotiate an end to a chaotic conflict that has killed 250,000 people, driven a huge wave of refugees and empowered Islamic State.

De Mistura said on Tuesday said the talks were the only hope for Syria.

“If there is a failure this time after we tried twice at conferences in Geneva, for Syria there will be no more hope. We must absolutely try to ensure that there is no failure,” he told Swiss television RTS.

Russia not backing off

The Levant Front rebel group said their defeats around the Aleppo villages of Nubul and Zahraa came only after “more than 500 raids by Russian airplanes”.

One commander said opposition-held areas of the divided city were at risk of being encircled entirely by the government and allied militia, and appealed to foreign states that back the rebels to send more weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country had no intention of ending its airstrike campaign.

“Russian strikes will not cease until we really defeat terrorist organisations like (The al Qaeda-linked) Jabhat al-Nusra. And I don’t see why these air strikes should be stopped,” he said at a news conference in Oman’s capital Muscat.

Diplomats and opposition members said they were taken by surprise when de Mistura called for immediate efforts to begin ceasefire negotiations despite there being no official talks or goodwill measures from the Syrian government.

The opposition has said it will not negotiate unless the government stops bombarding civilian areas, lifts blockades on besieged towns and releases detainees.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the violence in the country, said Russian and Syrian warplanes launched dozens of strikes on the rebel towns of Hayan and Hreitan in northern Aleppo on Wednesday.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-02-03

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