Syria Govt Agrees To Join Peace Talks, With Conditions

Syria Govt Agrees To Join Peace Talks, With Conditions

Talks aimed at ending the war in Syria restarted Tuesday with the government enforcing its will, warning the United Nations it would not tolerate any discussion of President Bashar al-Assad's ouster from power.

Assad's negotiators skipped the opening of the UN-backed talks, delivering another blow to negotiations that have achieved little through seven previous rounds.

Opposition representatives, united in one delegation for the first time, met UN mediator Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday.

After arriving in Geneva late Monday, rebel delegation chief Nasr al-Hariri told reporters that his camp was still insisting on Assad's removal as part of any peace deal, defying calls for moderation.

Damascus had initially refused to confirm it would attend the talks with the opposition maintaining its hardline stance on the president, but the UN announced that government representatives will arrive on Wednesday.  

But before agreeing to come, Assad's envoys secured key concessions from de Mistura.

"During intense discussions over the last two days, de Mistura pledged to the government delegation that there would not be any... discussion of the Riyadh statement", an opposition text that references Assad's ouster, a source close to the government told AFP.

Keeping the Assad issue off the table may also suit de Mistura, who has said he wants this round to focus on a new constitution for Syria and UN-supervised elections.

Hours before the talks officially started, government-ally Russia informed de Mistura that Syrian forces had agreed to a ceasefire in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, following days of heavy bombardment.

Eastern Ghouta, under siege by government forces since 2013, is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in Syria and violence there has increased significantly in recent days.