Geneva launches a new round of UN peace talks on Syria

Doubts and uncertainties overshadow the meeting. President Assad calls the Geneva process "null", "merely a meeting for the media”. Astana's talks more effective. But the UN Special Envoy denies contradictions and says diplomatic work is "in tandem". Fresh US accusations against Damascus: a prison crematorium to hide evidence of mass murders.

Geneva (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Today, a new round of peace talks on Syria opens, under in Geneva the aegis of the United Nations. The goal is to strengthen the "fragile" national truce in force since midnight December 30, in the context of a bloody conflict that in six years has caused more than 320,000 victims and millions of displaced. The previous five UN-sponsored meetings have not been able to guarantee effective results in the interests of stable and lasting peace.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has strengthened positions on the ground in recent days, chasing rebels from their strongholds in Damascus and taking over [almost] complete control of the capital. The Syrian leader recently defined the political process in Geneva "null", a kind of "meeting for the media".

For Assad, the Astana meetings sponsored by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, give greater hopes for conflict resolution. At the beginning of May they led to an agreement to create "de-escalation" zones. The agreement includes the ceasefire, an overfly ban, the immediate supply of humanitarian aid and the return of refugees.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has denied the news that Astana's negotiations end up casting a shadow on the diplomatic effort put in place by the United Nations. "We work in tandem," he added, as UN work is aimed at achieving four different goals: governance, new constitution, elections and the fight against terrorism.

However, the government front and the delegation representing the rebels remain divided on a crucial knot: the future - political and non - of President Assad. The leaders of the HNC, supported by the Saudis, insist on the expulsion of the Damascus leader as a prerequisite for any political transition. An "unacceptable" request for the government.

Further undermining the UN peace talks, yesterday's allegation by the US Department of State - whose position appears increasingly marginal in the Syrian cabinet, dominated by Russia, Iran, Turkey and Arab nations - against the Damascus government. The White House claims that Assad's "regime" has built a crematorium inside a military prison to disperse the remains of killed prisoners.

Confirming his thesis, Washington has released some recently-de-classified satellite images of the structure that show construction activities.

In recent months, human rights activists have denounced the torture and hanging of thousands of detainees in a jail in Damascus. The Syrian government did not want to respond to new allegations launched by the United States, whereas in the past it had always denied the rumors of abuse within the Saydnaya prison.

The charges - which will be presented in the coming days to the international community - date from August 2013 to April 2017. For the US State Department, there is evidence to certify Assad's "mass murders" and it calls on the regime for ending "these atrocities". According to rumors - which still recall the alleged evidence presented to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell against Saddam Hussein at the UN - it is the latest chapter in a propaganda war between international powers that is being consumed at the expense of the Syrian population.