Syrian govt delegation to attend peace talks

A Syrian checking the rubble of a house that was destroyed in the aftermath of reported bombardment by government forces in the rebel-held besieged town of Arbin, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, during an air strike on Mond
A Syrian checking the rubble of a house that was destroyed in the aftermath of reported bombardment by government forces in the rebel-held besieged town of Arbin, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus, during an air strike on Monday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIRUT/GENEVA • A Syrian government delegation will arrive in Geneva today, a day later than expected, to attend peace talks being held there this week, state news agency Sana said.

The delegation had delayed its planned departure for the talks, which was to begin yesterday, because of the opposition's insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down.

An earlier announcement that the delegation may not show up had delivered a blow to the planned negotiations.

The United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura, has received assurances that the Syrian government delegation will attend the talks, UN spokesman Alessandra Vellucci told a Geneva news briefing. "At least we know that they are coming," she said.

A delegation from the newly unified Syrian opposition, which arrived in the Swiss city on Monday, is due to hold a first meeting with Mr de Mistura later yesterday, she said.

Earlier, the pro-Damascus Syrian newspaper al-Watan reported that the Syrian government delegation to an eighth round of peace talks in Geneva this week has not yet left Damascus. It had reported on Monday that the delay was because of the opposition's insistence that Mr Assad step down, which he has refused to do.

Mr Nasr Hariri, head of the opposition delegation, told a Geneva news conference on Monday night that he is aiming for Mr Assad's removal as a result of negotiations.

A breakthrough in the talks is seen as unlikely as Mr Assad and his allies push for total military victory in Syria's civil war, now in its seventh year, and his opponents stick by their demand he leave power.

The eighth round of talks were seen as a chance for the UN to revitalise its push to end the war, which has killed more than 340,000 people and left Syria in ruin.

Mr De Mistura has stressed the urgent need for progress towards a political solution and had been bolstered by the fractured opposition's decision to form a unified negotiation team for the first time.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2017, with the headline 'Syrian govt delegation to attend peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe