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UN Invited to Syrian Peace Talks Next Week

By VOA News January 19, 2017

The United Nations has been invited to attend Syrian peace talks scheduled to begin Monday in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

A U.N. spokeswomen said Thursday that Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura to attend the negotiations "in light of the complexity and importance of the issues likely to be raised in Astana."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the talks will focus on enforcing the cease-fire and allow the distribution of humanitarian aid across the country. He also told a Japanese TV station he believed the negotiations would result in local "reconciliation" agreements with the rebels.

Russia, Syria's most powerful ally, brokered the talks with help from Iran and Turkey, which supports the opposition, but has changed its priorities to fighting Kurdish groups and Islamic State.

A number of Turkey-supported opposition groups also have agreed to attend. The rebel groups and Assad are accusing each other of violating the cease-fire.

Russia and Turkey brokered the cease-fire in late December, but violence recently has escalated throughout Syria, particularly around the capital of Damascus.

The ongoing violence has displaced thousands more people, and access to humanitarian aid is still being denied in some areas, according to U.N. senior advisor Jan Egeland.

"The cessation of hostilities period has been a disappointment, frankly," Egeland said. He noted that the U.N. humanitarian task force launched last February experienced immediate success in distributing aid, but said "December and January so far have been our worst months since we started."

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