UN launches Syria peace talks despite opposition boycott — updated

Update below — Reuters reports: The first Syria peace talks for two years were a “complete failure” before they started on Friday, a Western diplomat said, after the United Nations announced it would press ahead with them despite an opposition boycott.

Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad said they were far more concerned with fending off a Russian-backed military onslaught, with hundreds of civilians reported to be fleeing as the Syrian army and allied militia tried to capture a suburb of Damascus and finish off rebels defending it.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura has invited the Syrian government and an opposition umbrella group to Geneva for “proximity talks”, in which they would meet in separate rooms.

But so far the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has refused to attend, insisting it wanted an end to air strikes and sieges of towns before talks can start. The boycott defies Washington, which has urged the opposition to take up the “historic opportunity” for the talks, without preconditions. [Continue reading…]

UPDATE — Reuters reports: The main Syrian opposition grouping agreed to attend United Nations-sponsored peace talks which began in Geneva on Friday, reversing a boycott that had threatened to wreck the first attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the war in two years. [Continue reading…]

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