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UN envoy to Syria starts broad consultations in Geneva in effort to restart peace talks

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BEIRUT — A United Nations envoy began a series of low-level consultations Tuesday in Geneva with representatives of the Syrian government and its opponents in the hopes of restarting peace talks.

Staffan de Mistura, however, lowered expectations that the talks would yield any agreement at this point.

"These are not yet peace talks. These are closed, low-key, separate, structured discussions with the parties, to consult on the current crisis in Syria," he told journalists. "This is the necessary ground work before we even get to a negotiating table."

The talks in Geneva represent the latest international effort to find a political settlement to the Syrian civil war, which has killed over 220,000 people.

Two rounds of direct negotiations between government and opposition representatives in early 2014 failed as both parties bickered about the starting point of the talks.

PHOTO: The UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a press conference on the situation in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)
The UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks during a press conference on the situation in Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

This time, the U.N. envoy is holding separate talks with the representatives. De Mistura said the current talks would last for an initial period of five to six weeks with no cutoff date.

He added that over 40 Syrian groups, in addition to the Syrian government, and about 20 international actors are involved. These include Iran, a strong supporter of the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, an international rights group said Tuesday that Syrian government forces and insurgents have both committed abuses in the contested northern city of Aleppo, but some of the government's actions amount to crimes against humanity.

In a new report, Amnesty International sharply condemned the government's reliance on barrel bombs against rebel-held neighborhoods, saying they have killed more than 3,000 civilians there last year, and more than 11,000 in the country since 2012.

Insurgent groups also committed abuses in Aleppo by using imprecise weapons such as mortars and improvised rockets against government-held neighborhoods, killing at least 600 civilians in 2014, the report said.

Aleppo, once Syria's largest city and commercial capital, has been a major battleground in the country's civil war.


Associated Press writer Ryan Lucas in Beirut contributed to this report.

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