More fighting as latest talks on Syrian war resume

Formal indirect talks and bilateral meetings between United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the warring sides are expected to begin later today.


The deputy envoy for Syria, Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, says he has held discussions with the Syrian opposition after earlier meeting with the government delegation.

“Substantive discussions. We went through all the issues that need to be clarified before we start. And, in that sense, I think it was a positive meeting, so, let’s see what happens.”

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government, backed by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias, has representatives attending the Geneva talks.

Each side blames the other for violating the ceasefire.

The latest round of talks coincide with clashes in the capital Damascus, where rebels and the army are fighting on the edge of the city centre in Jobar district.

The chief negotiator of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee representing the opposition groups, Nasr Al-Hariri, blames the government for the ongoing fighting there. “There were breakthrough attempts to break into these areas and aerial bombing. Therefore, the area where the fighting is taking place now is the same area that was targeted by the regime and its allies, and it’s the same passages where the regime and its allies tried to break through. So this is clear self-defence, and, because the regime attempts to get into these areas, you would not have seen these backwards results.”

The UN humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, says 300,000 civilians are at risk as the battle around Damascus rages on.

Those are the civilians of the besieged Douma and Kafr Batna areas of rural Damascus.

Mr Egeland says the Syrian government is not giving the go ahead for convoys and armed groups are not guaranteeing their security, meaning much needed aid is not getting through.

“You know, supplies are dwindling, supplies are not there anymore. The informal routes into this area were there when there was less fighting. They are gone. So they are totally dependent on our supplies. Starvation will just be around the corner unless we get there in the coming weeks.”

The fighting in Syria is also leading to increasingly busy and dangerous airspace.

Russian bombers have conducted a number of strikes in support of President Assad, and Syrian military planes are also in the air.

The now crowded skies over territory held by the self-proclaimed Islamic State have also complicated US-led air strikes targeting IS in both Iraq and Syria.

A US pilot, Lieutenant Commander William Vuillet, involved in the bombing campaign, says the situation is resulting in close calls.

“There are some close passes every once in a while. Again, we try to mitigate it as much as possible, but, with the remotely piloted aircraft, obviously there’s no crew on board, so they don’t have the same visual lookout that we do on board our aircraft. So it happens every once in a while where we have passes.”

But air strikes remain more dangerous for those on the ground.

Earlier this week, it was alleged a US-led coalition air strike near the Syrian city of Raqqa hit and killed more than 30 civilians, although the Pentagon denies the allegation.

Now in its seventh year, observers estimate the war has led to the deaths of more than 320,000 people and 280,000 continue to live under siege in Syria.