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UN sees no halt in Syria truce, talks to run to March 24

Men ride motorcycles and vehicles, carrying Islamic and Free Syrian Army flags while attending an anti-government demonstration in Idlib

Syria’s cessation of hostilities is open-ended, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday, brushing off a perception that the truce needs renewing this weekend.

He told reporters he would now press on with more peace talks – though neither the Syrian government nor the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) have confirmed they will attend.

De Mistura said he had heard some of the warring sides had indicated the ceasefire, which started at midnight Feb 27, would expire in two weeks.

“From the UN point of view and the Geneva meetings we have been having on the task force and certainly (the) Munich understanding, there was an open-ended concept regarding the cessation of hostilities,” he said after a meeting on Syrian humanitarian issues in Geneva.

The Munich meeting in February was a key point in Syrian peace process, when De Mistura asked its international backers, led by the United States and Russia, to do more to make the warring sides come to the table to negotiate.

They hatched a plan for a ceasefire, and the opposition High Negotiations Committee said it would support a two-week halt to the fighting.

De Mistura plans to launch substantive peace talks on Monday, and said they will focus on the core issues of governance, elections within 18 months and a new constitution.

The round of talks would not run beyond March 24, and there would then be a break before resuming, he said, without giving details.

Asked if the talks could be delayed further from an original start date of March 7, De Mistura said the format gave him a lot of flexibility.

The United Nations, which has delivered aid to 10 of 18 besieged areas across Syria in the last four weeks, is working to overcome obstacles and reach remaining areas, said Jan Egeland who chairs the humanitarian task force.

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