GENEVA (AP) — The Latest on Syrian peace talks in Geneva (all times local):
The U.N. envoy for Syria has announced a “temporary pause” in peace talks in Geneva amid intensified fighting, saying the process will resume later this month.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with opposition leaders, Staffan de Mistura insisted “this is not the end, and it is not the failure of the talks.”
De Mistura said both sides were “interested in having the political process started,” and that he had set a new date of Feb. 25 for the resumption of the talks.
The announcement comes just two days after de Mistura opened the first talks in two years aimed at ending a five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced an estimated 11 million people.
Syrian forces backed by Russian airstrikes have advanced in northern Syria in recent days, leading the opposition to accuse Damascus of negotiating in bad faith.
Syria’s state news agency SANA says rebels have fired several rockets at residential areas in the southern city of Daraa, killing 10 civilians and wounding 41, most of them women and children.
Daraa is contested, with parts of it held by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and others by members of armed opposition groups trying to overthrow him. The rockets hit government-held areas.
The news agency says that in a separate attack Wednesday, rebels fired several rockets and mortar shells at the Harasta suburb of the capital, Damascus. It says one shell slammed into a high school, wounding three staff members.
Syrian state-run TV and Lebanon’s Hezbollah TV say the Syrian army and allied militiamen have broken a long running rebel siege of two Shiite villages in the northern Aleppo province.
The TV says the siege of Nubl and Zahra was broken Wednesday by the army and Shiite militias known as the Popular Defense Committees.
The two villages, located in the middle of opposition territory, have been blockaded by rebel groups for around three years.
Their capture would mark a major victory for government forces, which have made significant advances in the province in the past few days.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group that monitors the conflict, says the Syrian army was one kilometer (mile) away from the two villages.
The chief negotiator of the Syrian opposition says the government’s decision to allow aid into a besieged Damascus suburb was a “step to silence the Syrian people,” implying that the aid delivery was an empty gesture.
Mohammed Alloush told reporters Wednesday that the aid delivery to Moadamiyeh is “a step that we describe as good, but not enough at all.”
He says he is not optimistic regarding the success of U.N. hosted indirect peace talks in Geneva, blaming the “criminal regime” led by Syrian President Bashar Assad and its ally Russia, which he says is “always trying to stand by the side of the criminals.”
He also says the opposition would never take part in a national unity government with the “shabiha,” an Arabic term that means government thugs.
His comments came amid a renewed government offensive against rebels in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.
The opposition had said that it would not participate in the talks without a complete lifting of government sieges on rebel-held areas, and an end to the bombardment of civilians.
A member of the Syrian opposition’s negotiating team in Geneva says the government’s decision to allow aid into a besieged rebel-held suburb of the capital, Damascus, is a small but positive step.
Basma Kodmani, who is in Geneva to take part in U.N.-sponsored indirect negotiations with the government, says the amount of supplies allowed “is way below what we are hoping to see happen.”
It was not clear if the opposition will have any meetings at the United Nations on Wednesday, as government forces launched a new offensive to encircle Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.
Kodmani describes the attack on Aleppo as a “horrible development.” She says the message the government is trying to send to rebels is “there is nothing to negotiate. Just go home.”
“We’re not going home,” she says.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Russia sees no reason to stop its airstrikes in Syria.
“The goal of the operation is to defeat the terrorist organizations the Islamic State and Nusra Front. I don’t see any reason why the air campaign should be stopped as long the terrorists are not defeated,” Lavrov said Wednesday in Muskat, Oman, the state news agency Tass reported.
As food and medical aid heads for a besieged, rebel-held suburb of Damascus, Syrian government forces and their allies are pressing forward in a powerful offensive in northern Syria in an apparent bid to encircle the country’s biggest city, where various rebel groups control many neighborhoods.
Damascus-based spokesman for the International Committee for the Red Cross says an aid convoy is on its way to the besieged rebel-held town of Moadamiyeh, southwest of the Syrian capital.
Pawel Krzysiek tells The Associated Press that 12 trucks carrying food, medicine and medical equipment are expected to be distributed to residents of the town on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Krzysiek said 14 trucks of aid were delivered the besieged rebel suburb of al-Tal.
The aid delivery appears to be an attempt toward a goodwill gesture after U.N.-mediated indirect peace talks got off to a rocky start in Geneva this week.
The Syrian opposition has dismissed the deliveries as too small and demanded an end to the bombardment of civilians in order for the Geneva talks to go forward.
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