Syria peace talks struggle as bomb kills dozens

Geneva (AFP) – The UN sought painstakingly Friday to get a new round of Syrian peace talks off the ground, but there were few signs of progress as dozens more civilian deaths underlined the scale of the challenge.

The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who brought rival regime and opposition delegates symbolically together late Thursday, held separate meetings with them Friday to hammer out the format for the meetings.

But there appeared to be no discussion of substance, either with the UN and certainly not between the rival parties themselves.

“We discussed issues relating to the format of the talks exclusively,” said Syrian regime delegation chief Bashar al-Jaafari after meeting de Mistura.

“We are going to talk about procedure,” a member of the opposition delegation, Assad Hana, told AFP before an afternoon meeting with the UN envoy.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “encouraged that the Syrians … sat together in the same room,” even if it remains unclear whether the two sides will hold face-to-face negotiations.

During three previous rounds of talks in Geneva last year, the rivals never sat down at the same table, instead leaving de Mistura to shuttle between them.

– Over 300,000 dead –

Even as the new UN talks began, the death toll in a suicide bombing near the Syrian town of Al-Bab rose to 51, the latest atrocity in a six-year war which has killed more than 310,000 people.

In addition two Turkish soldiers were killed, while separately officials in Baghdad…

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