UN hosts ‘last hope’ Syria talks in Vienna

Vienna: The United Nations will make a fresh push from Thursday to jump-start Syrian peace talks, as violence continues to rage in a seven-year-old war that has killed more than 340,000 people.
The two days of negotiations in Vienna come after eight previous rounds in Geneva, the last one in December, that failed to get the different parties even to talk to each other. They stumbled over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who has taken the upper hand in the conflict since Russia began backing him militarily in 2015.
Representatives from Assad’s government have refused to meet the opposition directly until they drop demands that he leave office.
A UN spokeswoman said the Syrian government delegation was due to meet with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura at 11:30 am (1030 GMT).The main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), said it would sit down for separate talks at 4 pm. De Mistura said on Wednesday that the negotiations in Vienna involving “full delegations” of the opposition and government come at a “very, very critical moment”. Nasr al Hariri from the SNC said that the next two days would be “a real test for all the sides”. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said meanwhile in Paris that the talks are the “last hope” for reaching a political solution. — AFP