Geneva, fifth round of talks on Syria begin. Few hopes for peace

Government delegates and opposition representatives present at the meeting. There will be no "direct" talks and positions appear more and more distant. Recent clashes in the capital have raised tensions. The UN special envoy on visit to Ankara, Riyadh and Moscow to mediate an agreement.


Geneva (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The fifth round of peace talks on Syria mediated by the United Nations begins today in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting should involve both delegates of the government, opposition representatives even though the positions of the two sides appear increasingly distant and it is difficult to imagine an agreement. Meanwhile there is a further escalation of violence on the ground in recent days, which has also involved Damascus and rendering the national truce in force from midnight of 30 December increasingly "fragile".

The UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura had shown cautious optimism at the end of the fourth meeting, which took place in late February. According to the top diplomat - engaged in a diplomatic tour that touches Ankara, and then Moscow and Riyadh to re-launch dialogue - the climate seems to be "better" than the previous "indirect talks" of the past. Small steps forward are also favored by the Astana meetings in January; the diplomatic effort would have favored the drafting of a "clear agenda" to be discussed, and that now "everything is ready" to move forward.

In accordance with agreements reached earlier between the two sides, these talks should discuss the form of government, a new draft constitution, elections and the fight against terrorism. However, the situation on the ground is becoming more critical and conditions relating to security have worsened, especially in Damascus and in the central Hama province.

The prospect of "direct" talks between the two sides also appears difficult in this case.

In recent days, rebel groups and jihadists stormed neighborhoods of the capital, to the surprise of the government forces. In response, President Bashar al-Assad authorized airstrikes, rocket fire and missiles, exacerbating the climate on the eve of the negotiations even more.

The opposition wants to primarily discuss the ouster of President Assad, their primary condition to restoring peace in the country; the primary objective of the government is the "fight against terrorism", a term which identifies the entire armed opposition, and not just jihadists.

The tragedy of the Syrian conflict flared up in March 2011 and entered the seventh year, is contained in the figures recently  these days by the UN and NGOs working on the ground: more than 320 thousand deaths, nearly half of the people uprooted from their homes, from their origins . 96 thousand civilians have died, 17 thousand of which were children. Out of a population of 23 million people before the war, today there are 6.6 million internally displaced persons; another 4.7 million live in cities under siege or in hard to reach areas.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 4.9 million people have left their country. And 90% of those living in poverty, another 10% is considered "extremely vulnerable." The war has pushed back by decades what was one of the most advanced States in terms of economic, cultural and social development of the whole Middle East region. The educational and health systems are in crisis, while the volume of business between 2010 and 2015 has dropped by 55%.

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