The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria has announced that ‘substantive’ UN-mediated peace talks will begin next Monday, as humanitarian aid convoys continue to reach more people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas following a nationwide cessation of hostilities that began on 27th February.
"Quite an achievement," Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva, referring to the 238,485 people the UN and its partners have delivered aid to via 536 trucks.
Mr. de Mistura informed the press that participants have begun to arrive in the Swiss city, where he will hold "proximity talks" over the coming days as more of the parties arrive. He said he expects to start substantive discussions, known as the intra-Syrian talks, on 14th March, in a round which he expects will end by the 24th.
"We believe that having a timetable and a time limit is healthy for everyone," the Special Envoy noted. "When we start having the talks on Monday, the focus will be on substance, on the agendas, in other words on new governance, constitution, and elections, the future elections in 18 months’ time, both presidential and parliamentarian."
Turning to the humanitarian situation, Mr. de Mistura’s Special Advisor, Jan Egeland, highlighted the progress made in recent weeks.
"Ten areas have been reached by the UN and partners, several with multiple convoys," he announced. "UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has had progress reaching people in Yarmouk, and WFP, World Food Programme, has been systematically working to overcome all of the obstacles to be able to carry out airdrops to Deir ez-Zor."
However, Mr. Egeland added that six "important" besieged areas, including Darayya and Douma, remain unreached as permits and security guarantees have not yet been obtained. He also underlined that April will be "the month of new procedures", noting that these have been "too cumbersome" with too much time spent asking for permission for access.