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UN Envoy Hopes to Resume Intra-Syrian Talks in July

FILE - United Nations special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, May 17, 2016.
FILE - United Nations special envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, May 17, 2016.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said Tuesday that he hopes intra-Syrian talks can resume sometime next month.

“The window of opportunity is coming quickly to close unless we maintain alive the cessation of hostilities, we increase the humanitarian aid, we come to some common understanding about political transition, so that we can have, hopefully in July, intra-Syrian talks,” de Mistura said in a progress report to U.N. member states via a video link from Geneva.

De Mistura said he hopes the talks can focus on concrete steps toward a political transition. “This is what we are aiming at; that’s what we hope we will be able to reach.”

The veteran U.N. envoy has held two rounds of proximity talks in Geneva with delegations from the Syrian government and moderate opposition. The last session broke down at the end of April, as the then-2-month-old cessation of hostilities began to unravel.

De Mistura does not think the truce has entirely collapsed, saying it continues to hold in some parts of Syria, but he warned that there could be a total breakdown if it is strained further.

“Political talks cannot proceed effectively while hostilities are escalating and civilians are starving,” he added.

Humanitarian access sought

The United Nations has repeatedly called for full, unimpeded humanitarian access to the millions of Syrians in need of life-saving aid. Their desperation to escape violence and hunger has pushed more than 5 million to leave the country, with a million having crossed into Europe last year and over 200,000 so far this year.

The journey is dangerous and many put their lives in the hands of criminal smugglers, especially those crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said the fatalities are the equivalent of the “average of two full passenger jets per month of people drowning” in the Mediterranean.

Diplomats also expressed alarm about a recent trend in Syria – when aid is delivered to besieged areas, government forces or their allies then bombard the town with barrel bombs or shells, such as happened recently in Douma and Daraya.

“These attacks must stop,” U.S. envoy Michele Sison said.

For his part, Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said the humanitarian situation has been “pre-fabricated” into a “theatrical show” by some governments to bring political pressure on Damascus. He said the government is committed to providing aid to all Syrians.