UN envoy to Syria: Sides in Geneva talks exchanged documents

Updated: 03/22/2016 3:21 PM KSTP.com

(AP) GENEVA - GENEVA (AP) — Syria's warring parties taking part in the Geneva talks exchanged documents on Tuesday outlining each side's basic positions, the U.N. special envoy said.

The documents can be used to find if there is common ground between the Syrian government's side and that of the opposition before the current round of talks adjourn later this week, said Steffan de Mistura. Each side "has to at least show" that it is "serious about wanting to find a political process or political transition," the envoy told reporters in Geneva.

This round of proximity negotiations in Switzerland, in which the U.N. envoy has been shuttling since last week between the two sides, has offered more promise than previous attempts at negotiations amid a cease-fire that came into effect in late February and that has mostly held across Syria.

The talks are expected to adjourn on Thursday and resume later in April.

De Mistura said Tuesday's horrific terror attacks in Brussels, which killed at least 31 and wounded scores, underlined the imperative to find a resolution to Syria's civil war, which has now entered its sixth year and which has killed more than 250,000 people, according to U.N. estimates.

"We need to extinguish the fire of war in Syria," de Mistura said. "We need to find a political solution. We need a political transition in Syria in order to make sure we can all concentrate and the Syrians can all together concentrate on what is the real danger of everyone in Europe, in the world, in Syria and elsewhere."

The Islamic State group, which controls large swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq, claimed responsibility for the Brussels attacks.

Meanwhile, a 27-truck convoy on Tuesday delivered food and other aid to the besieged area of Al-Houla near the central Syrian city of Homs, the International Committee of the Red Cross and a U.N. humanitarian affairs office said.

Syrian government forces have restricted access to the area since May 2012, according to the monitoring group Siege Watch. A Britain-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says the siege intensified into a near-total blockade in May 2015.

But even as aid reached Al-Houla, Syrian opposition parties accused President Bashar Assad's government of laying siege to new areas of the country.

Opposition leader Assad al-Zoubi said areas such as the Damascus suburb of Barza — which had previously been accessible to aid — has been cut off over the last five days, as well as areas of the northern rural Homs province, the provinces of Aleppo and Latakia in the west.

Speaking in Geneva, al-Zoubi said such incursions violate international resolutions, and that there are a total of 25 areas now besieged in Syria.

As for the Geneva talks, he accused Assad's government of "diversionary tactics" and said the documents the Damascus side handed to de Mistura referred to "peripheral issues."

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Issa reported from Beirut.

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