United Nations pessimistic as Syria peace talks resume in Geneva

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The UN has sought to play down expectations for the talks, with the special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, saying he has little hope for a breakthrough, but wants to move towards restarting a peace process to end the six-year war.

Upcoming Syria peace talks remain focused on negotiating a "political transition" in the war-ravaged country, the United Nations mediator's office said Tuesday, following concern the United Nations was backing away from that aim.

Salem al-Meslet, a spokesman for the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told AFP that his delegation was asking for direct talks with the government. "No, I'm not expecting a breakthrough", de Mistura said.

In talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, last week, Russian Federation proposed a set of constitutional changes as the starting point for negotiations.

Anas al-Abdah, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said: "We are fully committed to the Geneva talks and prepared to discuss a political solution and transition".

The government has insisted that the cease-fire does not protect al-Qaida-linked groups, while rebels say the agreement they signed in Ankara says it does.

On the eve of the intra-Syrian talks, which had been stopped for nine months, the three opposition delegations plus the regime delegation arrived to the Swiss city amid fears they would be unable to achieve any serious breakthrough in the Syrian crisis.

The countdown has begun to Intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva where UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura on Wednesday stressed the need to "outpace" those who wished to see the deliberations come to nothing.

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"We have to outpace the few spoilers with momentum on the political track", he said.

At those talks, de Mistura had to meet separately with the opposing delegations.

The scope of the talks has been cut back to core political questions since a year ago, after an initiative by Russia, Turkey and Iran took thorny military issues off the Geneva agenda and assigned them to a separate process in the Kazakhstan's Astana. De Mistura said he was "determined" to maintain "a very proactive momentum" in the talks, which will focus on new elections, a new constitution and governance.

However, government planes reportedly pounded rebel-held areas of Deraa and Hama provinces on Thursday, with fierce fighting also continuing on the ground.

The form of political transition however differs widely between the warring sides.

The military and geopolitical context in the war, which has killed around 400,000 and made millions more homeless or refugees, has changed massively since the last talks nearly a year ago.

United Nations diplomats, however, say the talks will focus on three main points: the establishment of a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance; a process for drafting a new constitution; and free and fair elections to be held under United Nations supervision.