UN to start Syria peace talks on Friday in Geneva

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura announces indirect “proximity talks”. The Islamic State group and the al-Nusra Front are not included. Turkey vetoes Kurdish presence. Divided Syrian opposition has not yet agreed on its delegation. At least 23 are killed in an attack in Aleppo.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Talks aimed at finding a political solution to Syria’s civil war are expected to start in Geneva on Friday and last six months before a solution is found to end a conflict that has so far killed 260,000 people, and displaced 4.6 million abroad and at least 12 million inside the country.

Divisions within Syrian opposition have however prevented the creation of a single delegation for the anti-Assad forces. Ongoing discussions over who should take part continues to cast a shadow over the talks’ success.

The priorities set by the Special UN Staffan de Mistura include a ceasefire, fighting the so-called Islamic State group and an increase in aid, particularly to areas most at risk.

The top UN diplomat said that the "proximity talks" would be indirect to start with, with negotiators ferrying messages between representatives of the warring parties.

The talks have been postponed several times as the parties have failed to agree on who should participate; in particular, the Syrian opposition is deeply divided, and without a common voice.

In addition, Turkey has already threatened peace efforts if Kurdish groups, which Ankara considers terrorist, are invited to the talks.

The Islamic State group and the al-Nusra Front, which is linked to al-Qaeda, have already been excluded.

The upcoming talks in Geneva will focus on the roadmap set in December by the United Nations Security Council, which provides for an immediate ceasefire, a transitional government in six months and election within 18 months.

The opposition insists on seeking a "transitional government" to put an end to the rule of President Bashar al Assad. However, US Secretary of State John Kerry appears to be in favour of a "national unity government", and not a transitional government as provided by Resolution 2254 of 18 December.

Addressing the Syrian parties, Mr. de Mistura said, “Our main principle is no preconditions. [. . .] Just come and talk about everything that is of concern.”

Meanwhile, the violence continues in the country. Yesterday, 23 people were reportedly killed and dozens wounded in an attack on a rebel checkpoint in Aleppo.

A suicide bomber driving a fuel lorry targeted a checkpoint run by the Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham in Aleppo’s as-Sukkari neighbourhood. It is not known who carried out the attack.