Middle East

Syria peace talks move tentatively into a second day

Syrian government delegation arrives at the UN headquarters in Geneva for a meeting with Staffan de Mistura (1 February 2016) Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Syrian government team travelled to the UN headquarters in Geneva

UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura has met a Syrian government delegation in Geneva, on the second day of talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria.

Mr de Mistura was later due to meet officials from the opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee.

However, its chief negotiator said they were still deciding whether to attend.

The HNC wants sieges and air strikes on rebel-held areas to end before starting negotiations in earnest, but the government has so far not agreed.

More than 250,000 people have died in almost five years of war in Syria.

What hope for the talks?

Siege warfare and suffering in Madaya

International system has failed Syria

The story of the conflict

Eleven million others have fled their homes as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other, as well as jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS).

The Syrian government team travelled to the UN headquarters in Geneva, the Palais des Nations, on Tuesday morning to see Mr de Mistura, the day after the HNC delegation had its first formal meeting with the Swedish-Italian diplomat.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The talks are taking place as fighting on the ground in Syria intensifies
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura met opposition groups on Monday

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the fact that both sides are participating is being seen as positive, but the opposition is waiting for a sign that the government will respond to its calls for humanitarian measures.

The HNC's chief negotiator, Mohammed Alloush of the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam, said he was waiting for the outcome of Mr de Mistura's discussions with government officials on Tuesday before deciding whether to formally join the peace process.

"Nothing has changed in the situation on the ground. So as long as the situation is like this we are not optimistic," he told reporters.

"There are no good intentions from the regime's side to reach a solution."

Image copyright AP
Image caption All sides concede the talks could easily be derailed

The UN envoy said on Monday that the HNC had made the "very strong point" that parallel to any talks, the Syrian people "deserve to hear and see facts on the ground".

"When I meet the Syrian people they tell me: 'Don't just have a conference, have also something that we can see and touch while you are meeting in Geneva'," Mr de Mistura told reporters.

The head of the government delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, has said the opposition is "not serious" about peace and that its demands are intended to derail the talks.

But in an apparent gesture of goodwill on Monday, the government agreed "in principle" to allow more aid to be delivered to the besieged rebel-held town of Madaya, near Damascus, where hundreds of civilians are reportedly suffering from severe malnutrition and several have starved to death.

Aid will also be sent to the northern villages of Foah and Kefraya, which are surrounded by rebel forces.

Elsewhere in Syria the fighting is continuing, with government forces reportedly capturing another village to the north of the city of Aleppo on Tuesday in an offensive backed by Russian air strikes.