UN urges US, Russia action to save Syrian ceasefire

By Fatih Erel

GENEVA (AA) – The UN envoy on Syria Thursday appealed for a U.S. and Russian initiative “at the highest level” to end the Syria crisis, saying the truce “is in great danger” and “could collapse any time” as continued violence is “killing one Syrian every 25 minutes”.

Speaking at the UN Office Geneva at a press conference at the end of the latest round of Syria peace talks, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said: “We cannot ignore the fact that during the talks we have been having incidents… At least a few hours ago, we had an airstrike on a hospital in Aleppo”.

“In the last 48 hours, there was an average of one Syrian killed every 25 minutes and one Syrian wounded every 13 minutes,” he noted.

“We will have at least one or two more rounds before July,” he added. “My plan is to relaunch the next round of talks during the course of May.”

The next round of Syria peace talks is planned to start next month, but de Mistura gave no specific date.

“It [the cessation of hostilities] is still in great danger… and the perception is that it could collapse any time,” he warned.

Appealing for a US and Russian initiative at the highest level to end the Syria crisis, de Mistura said, “The next round of talks is going to take place… they would be meaningful only if and when the cessation of hostilities is brought back to the level we saw in February and March…My appeal is for a U.S. and Russian urgent initiative at the highest level.”

De Mistura also called for a new International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting at the ministerial level from major and regional powers to sustain a troubled cessation of hostilities, the political transition process, and humanitarian efforts.

The ISSG, which includes the U.S., Russia, the EU, Turkey, Iran and Arab states, should urgently meet to ease the recent tensions on Syria, de Mistura said.

“The transitional government should include members of the present government, opposition, independents, and others,” he also said.

On Friday, de Mistura estimated that the death toll of the five-year conflict in Syria was 400,000, although the UN has officially kept the figure at 250,000 for months due to difficulties in counting the dead.

The UN envoy added that he has no evidence of direct talks between the Syrian regime and the opposition.

The opposition delegation had unilaterally postponed indirect talks with regime delegates last week before the talks ended on Wednesday. Key Syrian opposition delegation members left Geneva following the postponement.

The delegation head of the Bashar al-Assad regime said last week that the peace talks in Geneva would continue despite the Syrian opposition’s decision to pull out of the current round.

The latest round of talks to resolve the Syria conflict began last Wednesday. The regime delegation joined the talks Friday following parliamentary elections in Syria.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests. Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed, according to UN figures released months ago.