More than 270,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011
More than 270,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 © Mahmoud Taha - AFP/File
More than 270,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011
Layal Abou Rahal, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

UN envoy urges clear proposals from Damascus at Syria talks

The UN's Syria envoy on Friday urged Damascus to make concrete proposals on political transition "next week", ratcheting up pressure on the regime to move peace talks in Geneva forward.

As he ended a week of negotiations, United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura conceded that he was "still detecting large distances" between the government and main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC).

He met with both sides Friday before a weekend pause in the talks aimed at ending five-years of civil war that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions.

The UN envoy restated his praise of the HNC for submitting a proposal outlining its vision for a new Syrian government.

But he said he had not yet received detailed plan from the government.

"I hope next week ... that we will get their opinion, their details, on how they see the political transition taking place", de Mistura said.

The regime's lead negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari, who spoke for just over a minute after meeting de Mistura and refused to take questions, said the government had laid out "fundamental principles for a political solution to the crisis".

The UN mediator made clear that while the regime's focus on principles could prove helpful, it was now time to go further.

"I can tell you I am urging them (to produce) a paper on the transition," the UN envoy said.

The HNC has made the departure of President Bashar al-Assad an unalterable demand, while Damascus has termed any talk of the president's removal "a red line".

- 'In a hurry' -

A seemingly intractable divide over Assad's fate is just one of the dauting hurdles facing the talks, which were pushed for Assad-ally Russia and the United States, which backs the HNC.

De Mistura sought to highlight positive developments since Monday, noting that the peace drive had helped maintain a fragile ceasefire, which has led to a signficant reduction in violence since being declared on February 27.

"No walk outs, no excessive rhetoric (and) no breakdowns", to date at the talks, de Mistura said, adding that he was "not disappointed."

"I am just pushing. That's my job ... We are in a hurry."

But public spats between the two sides have continued, with HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet on Friday questioning the government's commitment.

"We don't see seriousness in the other side, we see procrastination," he said.

- Daily bombing raids -

Western governments have voiced hope that negotiations could be helped by Russia's surprise decision this week to withdraw most of its forces from Syria, where they had been fighting in support of Assad.

Officials and experts said the pull-out could weaken Assad's position and force Damascus to commit to substantive dialogue.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted he could ramp up his military presence in Syria "within several hours" and that his forces would not relent in their battle against jihadists, including those from the Islamic State group (IS) and the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front.

The Russian military said Friday that its jets were flying around 25 bombing raids daily to back up a Syria's offensive to recapture the ancient city of Palmyra from IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 16 civilians, among them eight children, were killed Friday in air strikes on Raqa, IS's de facto capital in Syria.

The monitoring group said the strikes could have been carried out by either the Syrian regime, Russia, or the US-led coalition striking IS in Syria and Iraq.

Amid fighting near Palmyra, IS claimed the killing of five Russian troops and several members of the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah group.

- Kurdish region -

Syria's Kurds on Thursday declared a federal region across the several provinces they control, in a move aimed at boosting autonomy but which risks further complicating the talks.

Analysts have said the federalism call may have partly been a response to the Kurds being excluded from the talks.

If negotiations make progress before pausing on March 24, a second round of talks is tentatively scheduled for next month in which Kurdish leaders could possibly be included.

Thursday's federalism declaration was broadly rejected by those negotiating in Geneva, including the HNC, Damascus and de Mistura who branded it possibly "dangerous."

Seventy Syrian rebel factions on Friday posted a statement online to "categorically reject the (Kurdish) declaration."

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