New United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pictured at UN headquarters in New York on July 17, 2014
New United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pictured at UN headquarters in New York on July 17, 2014 © Stan Honda - AFP/File
New United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, pictured at UN headquarters in New York on July 17, 2014
AFP
Last updated: September 9, 2014

New UN Syria envoy arrives in Damascus on first visit

Staffan de Mistura, the new United Nations envoy on the Syrian crisis, arrived in Damascus on Tuesday for his first visit since being appointed to the post.

De Mistura was seen arriving at his hotel at the beginning of a trip expected to last three days and include meetings with Syrian government officials and members of the tolerated domestic opposition.

"Now we're watching, listening, then we will be talking," he said in brief remarks to journalists.

It was not yet clear whether de Mistura, who was accompanied by his deputy Ramzy Ezzedine Ramzy, would meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian media reported Monday that de Mistura would meet both government officials and members of Syria's domestic opposition, which is expected to urge him to convene new peace talks in Geneva.

But two rounds of negotiations in the Swiss city have failed to move the two sides closer to a political resolution to the conflict that began in March 2011, and it remains unclear if there is much political will for a new effort.

The United Nations said Monday that de Mistura's trip to Syria would be followed by stops elsewhere in the region and beyond to speak with key players in the conflict.

Details of his travel plans were not released but it was expected that he would travel to Russia, Assad's key ally.

De Mistura's predecessor, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, resigned in May after the failure of the second round of Geneva talks in January and February.

He had spent two years in the position, which he assumed after former UN secretary general Kofi Annan stepped down following a six-month stint in the role.

A former Italian deputy foreign minister, who has served previously in Iraq and Afghanistan, de Mistura was appointed to the Syria job in July.

The Syrian government welcomed his appointment, stressing he should demonstrate "objectivity and integrity" in pursuing his peace mission.

More than 180,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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