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Round of UN Syria talks closes with rivals trading blame

© POOL/AFP | Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari (R) arrives to attend a new round of negotiations with Special Envoy of The UN Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura during the Intra Syria talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on July 14, 2017

GENEVA (AFP) - 

The latest round of Syria peace talks wound down Friday with rival sides trading familiar soundbites as the UN envoy maintained his push for incremental progress towards a deal.

A delegation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and rebel negotiators were in Geneva this week for a seventh round of UN-backed negotiations aimed at resolving the devastating conflict.

United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura on Monday ruled out a breakthrough this round but insisted hopes for progress were heightened thanks in part to a ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia.

The regime side, led by Syria's UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, held its final meeting with de Mistura Friday, praising the round as "useful".

"We focussed on two main topics: the first one was counter-terrorism and the second one was related to the technical, legal and constitutional discussions", Jaafari told reporters.

The opposition says the regime stresses the terrorism issue to distract focus from political transition, the flashpoint subject that implies a negotiated end to the Assad regime.

The Geneva talks focus on four so-called "baskets" -- a new constitution, governance, elections and fighting terrorism.

The first three were set out by the Security Council, while terrorism was added at the regime's insistence.

The main opposition delegation, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), finished its last meeting with the UN before blasting the regime for thwarting the process.

"Let's speak frankly, the Syrian regime, until this moment, is refusing any engagements and discussion or negotiation," the HNC's delegation chief, Nasr al-Hariri told reporters.

He said the HNC focused this week on governance, an election and a drafting new constitution.

Hariri again accused the regime of using "the excuse of terrorism" to stall the talks.

"The only key to fight terrorism is political transition... that moves Syria to a stable and safe country," he said.

De Mistura was scheduled to brief the Security Council later Friday about his peace push for Syria, a country gripped by a six-year war that has claimed more than 320,000 lives.

At the start of the week and again on Thursday the UN envoy -- who has described himself as a "chronic optimist" -- insisted that his goal for the round was "incremental development", hinting that a more ambitious peace process could be set to launch.

© 2017 AFP