UN Syria envoy to announce possible new peace talks

UN Syria envoy to announce possible new peace talks
2 min read
25 February, 2016
Staffan de Mistura is to convene a task force meant to monitor the ceasefire in Syria that is planned to go into effect at midnight on Friday.
De Mistura will brief the Security Council by video link from Geneva [Getty]

The United Nations envoy for Syria will announce outline plans to resume peace talks for the conflict-ravaged country, before a ceasefire deadline at midnight on Friday.

"Tomorrow is going to be a very important, I will say a crucial day," Staffan de Mistura said at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva.

He promised to meet with journalists around 2200 GMT Friday "to assess where we are and indicate also the information regarding the resumption of Geneva talks".

Before that can happen though, Syria's warring parties have until midday Damascus time (1000 GMT) to sign up for a ceasefire deal brokered by Moscow and Washington.

After that, the 17-nation group backing Syria's peace process will meet in Geneva to approve the text before the 15 members of the Security Council are expected to adopt it, paving the way for the "cessation of hostilities" between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and non-jihadist rebel forces to begin by midnight Damascus time (2200 GMT).

De Mistura said he would brief the Security Council at 2000 GMT by video link from Geneva, before addressing the media in Geneva.

The "ceasefire" deal - which excludes the Islamic State (IS) group and other extremists - marks the biggest diplomatic push yet to help end the five-year conflict in Syria which has claimed more than 270,000 lives and displaced more than half of the population.

The deal was approved by both the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the main opposition grouping earlier this week.

A spokesman for Kurdish forces in Syria said on Thursday they would also respect the ceasefire, while retaining the right to "retaliate" if attacked.

"We, the People's Protection Units (YPG), give great importance to the process of cessation of hostilities announced by the United States and Russia and we will respect it, while retaining the right to retaliate... if we are attacked," YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said on his Facebook page.

The proposed truce is part of a plan announced by top diplomats in Munich earlier this month that also included expanded humanitarian access.

"Both deliverables are moving, and moving in the right direction," de Mistura said, describing the work done since the Munich meeting as "momentous".

But while humanitarian access has made dramatic progress, with convoys reaching six besieged areas and delivering aid to 110,000 people, the cessation of hostilities failed to take hold last week as initially planned.

If it does find root on Saturday, that could pave the way for UN-led peace negotiations to resume after they collapsed in Geneva earlier this month.