Syrian Peace Talks to Start Friday in Geneva, UN Envoy Saysby
Disagreements over makeup of delegations delayed talks
First phase of negotiations expected to last about two weeks
The latest effort to end Syria’s five-year war will begin in Geneva on Friday, according to a United Nations envoy, after a delay caused by disagreements over which groups could attend.
Staffan de Mistura said invitations will be sent out on Tuesday and that there should be the broadest possible participation. But he declined to comment on who would be present at the talks, the first phase of which is expected to last about two weeks.
It will be the third major attempt to end a conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people since it began in March 2011.
“This will not be Geneva 3,” de Mistura told a news conference, referring to the earlier negotiations which broke down amid differences over President Bashar Assad’s fate and the insistence of his government to label all opposition factions as terrorists. “We are hoping this will be the opening of a Geneva success story.”
Syria’s conflict has evolved into a war pitting largely Sunni rebels against the government of Assad, a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, both major regional powers and oil producers, have been drawn into the war, with each country supporting its co-religionists.
Russia, which has backed Assad from the start of the conflict, is now carrying out near-daily airstrikes in Syria in support of the Syrian president.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that Moscow still considers two radical Islamist militias backed by Gulf states and Turkey -- Ahrar as-Sham and Army of Islam -- as terrorist groups that can’t be part of the Syrian negotiations.