Syrian conflict: Vienna meeting "crucial moment for peace"
Staffan de Mistura says talks scheduled on November 14 are an opportunity "to do something" to stop the war. Moscow draw up a 18 month plan, followed by early elections. Uncertainty remains over role of Assad. Lattakia, government stronghold, targeted. The army defeats Islamic State to take Kweires airport.

Damascus (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is calling on world powers to "seize the moment", to start new international talks and create a peace process that will put an end to four years of bloody conflict.

On the sidelines of a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the diplomat spoke of opportunity that "cannot be missed" in reference to meetings held in Vienna. On 14 November, the Austrian capital will host a summit involving 20 countries and international organizations, with the aim of reaching a ceasefire between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the galaxy of opposition parties.

Three different working groups are already gathering, in an attempt to iron out - or reduce - the differences in terms of terrorism, the role of the opposition and the humanitarian crisis on the ground, which has already caused the death of 250 thousand people and millions of displaced persons . The debate will be used to determine which players can have a role in the political process.

The Islamic state, the Nusra Front (local offshoot of al Qaeda) and other small groups considered by the UN as "terrorists" have been excluded from the diplomatic process. "My job - said de Mistura – is to make sure that large countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran sit around the table and set out a political plan".

Also on the diplomatic front, Russia has prepared and circulated a "peace plan" that involves constitutional reforms that would be rolled out over 18 months, followed by early presidential elections. The text does not make clear whether, in this period, Assad should stay in power or give up control of the country; and it is this, the role of the president, that is the crucial factor around which the positions of the regional and world powers differ.

The document proposed by the Kremlin is also points  out that "some" opposition groups must be involved in negotiations for a peace plan to be held in Vienna. A spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that "priority" in view of the 14 November meetings is "to determine which groups of the Syrian opposition must be seen as partners in the process, and which are 'terrorists' and cannot be taken into account".

The proposed eight-point Moscow plan does not exclude the participation of Assad in the elections, a factor that other nations (the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) reject. In contrast, the reform process will not be led by the president but by a figure agreeable to all involved.

On the ground yesterday, 22 people died and 62 more were injured in a bomb attack on the city of Lattakia, Alawite stronghold of President Assad, so far largely spared by the fighting. It is the most serious incident to take place from 2011 to today in this seaside town, while outbreaks of conflict have also affected areas in the north and east of the province. Rebel groups and the Syrian army, backed by Hezbollah militias active in the area are involved in the clashes.

Meanwhile, the Damascus army registered its first significant victory over the Islamic State militias since Russia entered into the Syrian conflict. Soldiers loyal to President Assad have broken a two-year siege of Kweires airport, near Aleppo. The offensive to regain control of the airport, launched in late September, was supported by Iranian militia, elements of Hezbollah and Russian air raids.