Syrian sides face off under United Nations flag, asked to work together

Intra-Syria Talks Plenary Session May Take Place Thursday in Geneva                AFP 2016 FABRICE COFFRINI

Though the Geneva talks are seen as the most serious diplomatic effort in months, disputes over the agenda and longstanding disagreements between the opposition and the government on the future of Syria have cast doubts on whether any progress will be achieved.

De Mistura said he hoped to officially welcome the parties Thursday in the presence of representatives of key world and regional powers, "to show that the global community is interested, supportive, united as much as we can hope in order to tell the Syrian sides it's time to talk and fight on the table, through the table, but not in the field". "No, I am not expecting a breakthrough", he told journalists at the United Nations headquarters on Wednesday.

Mistura, who said a day earlier that he did not expect an "immediate breakthrough" from the meetings, said the biggest challenge in brokering peace between Assad and his opponents was lack of trust.

"Today, the test is that we expect that the (opposition) platforms (in Geneva) condemn this terrorist attack", chief negotiator Bashar Ja'afari told reporters after a 2-1/2 hour-long meeting with the United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura.

Speaking to Reuters, Basma Kodmani, a negotiator from the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said groups backing the talks had abided by the ceasefire, but questioned the government's commitment and whether Russian Federation, a key Assad ally, was ready to pressure it to curb the violence.

Ja'afari ruled out leaving the talks, saying he would meet de Mistura again on Tuesday, but he implied that some of the opponents that had sat face-to-face with at Thursday's opening ceremony were "sponsors of terrorism".

This time, de Mistura has voiced hope that he will manage to bring the two sides together for direct talks.

The ground has shifted since the last UN-sponsored talks broke up in April 2016 and the rebels are in a significantly weaker position. But Michael Ratney, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Syria and the Levant, was in Geneva for the talks, officials said. Pro-government forces are just 3 kilometers (2 miles) south of al-Bab, though clashes with the opposition forces in the area have so far been limited.

Drug OD deaths almost tripled since 1999, CDC says
While all age groups saw increases in death, the 55-to-64 group saw the biggest increase, with a five-fold jump since 1999. The suicide rate is 13.4 deaths per 100,000 and the rate of deaths from auto accidents is 11.1 deaths per 100,000 people.

A bitter dispute over Assad's fate also continues to divide the camps.

"Iran is main obstacle to any kind of political deal", he said.

In conclusion, he said that the so-called "Free Syrian Army", armed groups supported by Turkey which are involved in the operation against the ISIS militants in northern Syria, in fact, do not differ from the terrorists.

"UN Special Envoy handed us a document to study for the next meeting", he said.

Nasr Hariri, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press in Geneva says: "We have a lot of points that we share with this new administration".

Talks to end Syria's six-year conflict restart in Geneva on Thursday.

We want Syria to be neutral, a home for all.

"We hope to end it right now here".

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