The UN announced Monday the launch of the peace talks on Syria in Geneva, urging the world powers to push for a ceasefire in Syria after five years of civil war.
The statement comes in spite of a ground operation carried out by regime troops, aided by Russia in the city of Aleppo.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, regime troops have seized some locations in the suburbs of Aleppo, threatening an important supply line used by the opposition.
Opposition fighters said the operation is guarded by Russian air strikes, despite the regime’s pledges to stop the air raids.
The opposition previously said it will not participate in the talks before the regime stop the raids and lifts the siege on certain cities. However, opposition officials met UN envoy Staffan di Mistura for two hours, which di Mistura considered an official launch of the talks.
Di Mistura said the Syrian people deserve to witness an improvement on the ground, pointing out that the opposition is justified in asking for proof of good intentions.
He urged both sides to begin negotiations regarding an immediate ceasefire.
However, the regime’s military operations and the attack carried out by “Islamic State” (IS) in Damascus Friday have cast a shadow on the peace talks.
A car bomb and two suicide bombers attacked a district known to house one of the holiest shrines for Shi’a Muslims in the Syrian capital. The attack resulted in the death of 70 people.
However, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini believes that the presence of both the opposition and government delegations in Geneva to begin the next stage of the peace process is encouraging.
“While some signs of hope arrive from Geneva, today we mourn new victims in Syria, murdered by the same who are trying to kill any perspective of peace. The attack near the Seyyida Zeinab shrine is clearly aimed to disrupt the attempts to start a political process. Nevertheless, this process, started in November last year in Vienna, provides the best and probably only chance to bring to an end the conflict in Syria, which has caused and continues to cause so much suffering to so many,” Mogherini said in a statement.
Regarding the participation of Jaish Al-Islam group, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the group, which is considered as a terrorist group in Russia, must “renounce terrorist activity”.
“We have agreed that these people, if they take part in the negotiations, will take part [in them] in their personal capacity, that they will accept all the requirements of Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council, in particular, categorical rejection of extremist activity and commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity,” he said.
In an interview with Reuters, British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond accused, on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin of undermining international efforts to end the Syrian civil war by bombing opponents of IS, “in an attempt to bolster Bashar al-Assad”.
“It’s a source of constant grief to me that everything we are doing is being undermined by the Russians,” Hammond told Reuters during his visit to Jordan.
Russia says that it only targets locations and facilities belonging to the militant group IS in Syria.