Syria's warring sides brought together for Geneva talks

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is convening his first morning meeting with the delegation of Syrian government envoys.

Syria's main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) leader Nasr al-Hariri (C) speaks during a press conference after a meeting with United Nations' Syria envoy, on February 24, 2017 in Geneva, on the second day of a new round of Syria peace talks.

Today's intra-Syrian negotiations follow talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, where participants agreed on how to monitor the ceasefire effort started in December 2016.

More than 300,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since 2011, when government forces launched a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for Assad to step down.

The lead negotiator for the opposition - which is still fractured and does not have a completely unified delegation - said the Geneva talks should prioritize finding a political transition, something he said Assad's side did not want.

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"We want to see real seriousness on the negotiations table, this is why we demand direct negotiations to save time because every day costs us and the Syrians more souls, starvation and sieges".

De Mistura said he was determined to keep "a very proactive momentum" in the talks, which will focus on new elections, a new constitution and governance.

As in Astana, representatives of Russian Federation and the United States are among the Security Council Member States present at the discussions.

"Millions of battered and beleaguered women, men and children depend on meaningful action and the constructive engagement by the Syrian parties and their allies (.) to assure Syrians that an end to the conflict may finally be within reach", the United Nations relief chief said.

His comments came as 40 human rights organisations called for the talks to focus heavily on ending the rampant rights violations that have characterised Syria's almost six-year conflict, in more than 310,000 have been killed and millions more displaced.

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Meanwhile, Russia announced that it has asked the Syrian government to halt all military operations for the duration of the talks, while other countries were expected to deliver the same message to the rebels.

In a ceremony rich in symbolism, and as violent clashes continued in Syria, de Mistura admitted he was not "expecting miracles" while warning of dire consequences if the talks "fail again".

Speaking ahead of the Geneva meeting, an opposition delegation member told AP that they hoped to achieve "at least something at the human dimension: lifting the siege in certain areas, getting aid to those who are besieged".

The Syrian opposition insists President Bashar al-Assad must leave office as part of any deal, while Damascus has said the president's future is not open for negotiation.

He said the media teams in Geneva are also sharing little to no optimism about this round of talks.

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