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UN to announce new Syria talks date later on Thursday

United Nations special envoy on Syria de Mistura speaks during a news conference in Vienna

The UN mediator of Syrian peace talks will announce the date for a new round of talks later on Thursday after consulting the UN Security Council, despite the continuing violence on the ground, he told reporters in Geneva.

“There is a sense of urgency in having the talks resume, because we need to keep the momentum,” UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said.

“I’m not in a position now to tell you when they will be announced, but I am going be in a position of doing so after I have briefed and consulted the Security Council this afternoon.”

For the talks to be credible, there needed to be improvements in the humanitarian situation and the cessation of hostilities, de Mistura said.

De Mistura’s humanitarian advisor Jan Egeland said humanitarian access continued to be much more difficult than hoped. The UN had hoped to reach 1 million people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas with convoys of food aid in May, but supplies had only got to 160,000 people, he said.

“Even in areas where we had full approval from the government, there have been infinite problems in actually reaching the places, and in others where we had conditional approvals, like Daraya, we haven’t been able to reach the people at all.”

Daraya, Moadamiyah and al-Waer were the three places where the situation was “horrendously critical”, he said.

“Children are so malnourished in these places that they will be dying if we’re not able to reach them.”

The UN has resorted to air drops of food to reach 110,000 people besieged by Islamic State militants in the town of Deir al-Zor, and is considering air drops to places besieged by government forces if it doesn’t get permission to go in by land.

De Mistura said those air drops would still need government approval, but if that was denied, he expected the United States and Russia to find a way to ensure reached everyone.

Time is running out before an August deadline for the peace talks, and some diplomats had expected the timetable would be even tighter because talks might not be scheduled during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on June 6.

But de Mistura said Ramadan would “not be a factor”, saying that if people were able to keep fighting during Ramadan, they could be expected to conduct peace talks.

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