MOSCOW • The United Nations (UN) mediator on Syria said moribund peace talks on the conflict could soon be resumed if a faltering truce were extended to the city of Aleppo, something Russia's foreign minister said he hoped would be announced within hours.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura made his upbeat comments yesterday after holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrow in Moscow. The diplomat said he thought there was a chance to relaunch a cessation of hostilities - the ceasefire lies in tatters after fierce clashes in Aleppo - by reinforcing and extending local truces.
"I have a feeling and a hope that we can relaunch this," Mr de Mistura told a news conference after the talks, referring to the partial truce which was originally brokered by Russia and the United States around two months ago. "We all hope that... in a few hours we can relaunch the cessation of hostilities. If we can do this, we will be back on the right track."
The US and Russia jointly sponsored a ceasefire in place since February, but the ceasefire has since largely unravelled. Local truces were agreed upon in two areas last week, but not in Aleppo, the divided northern city where a sharp escalation of violence has done the most to derail the peace process.
Mr Lavrov said Russia and the US wanted to make such local truces open-ended and suggested a deal covering Aleppo was close at hand. "The process of agreeing (on) a ceasefire in Aleppo is being finished right now between Russian and American military personnel," said Mr Lavrov. "I hope that in the near future, maybe even in the coming hours, such a decision can be announced."
HOPE FOR TRUCE
We all hope that ... in a few hours, we can relaunch the cessation of hostilities. If we can do this, we will be back on the right track. ''
UN ENVOY STAFFAN DE MISTURA, on efforts to restart a ceasefire in Syria.
A joint US-Russian ceasefire monitoring system staffed by officers from both countries was being set up in Geneva, he added, and would help better track events on the ground.
"May is going to be an important month for Syria," said Mr de Mistura. "If... there will be definite confirmation that even Aleppo will return to a ceasefire regime, we can imagine that we can restart (peace) talks at the same time."
Mr de Mistura's optimism was at odds with the situation on the ground, however, where there were reports yesterday of rebels in eastern Aleppo firing a barrage of at least 65 rockets into government-controlled neighbourhoods, Syrian state news agency Sana reported.
At least three women were killed when rockets crashed into a maternity hospital, the agency and state television said, and another 11 killed in attacks on other government-held neighbourhoods.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said it had counted at least 19 dead and 80 wounded from the attacks.
Diplomatic efforts were set to continue, with Mr de Mistura joining the foreign ministers of Germany and France for talks with Syria's main opposition leader in Berlin today.
Discussions will focus on "how the conditions for a continuation of the peace talks in Geneva can be met, as well as how a reduction of violence and an improvement in the humanitarian situation in Syria can be achieved", the German foreign ministry said in a statement.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS