UN envoy calls for Syria peace talks to begin Jan. 25

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UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 (APP): The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria has set 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties aimed at ending the five-year-old conflict, his spokesperson announced Saturday.

The announcement, issued in Geneva, where the talks are also expected to take place, comes just over a week after the Security Council adopted resolution 2254, giving the world body an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices.

“In line with the clear parameters outlined in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), the Special Envoy intends to complete his consultations in early January, with a view to initiating intra-Syrian talks on a target date of 25 January 2016 in Geneva,” a statement issued by the spokesperson for Staffan de Mistura said.

“He counts on full cooperation of all the relevant Syrian parties in this process. Continuing developments on the ground should not be allowed to derail it.”

In its resolution, the 15-member Council called for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the UN to establish within six months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance,” setting a schedule for drafting a new constitution, with free and fair elections to be held within 18 months under UN supervision with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to vote.

Among its other provisions, the text acknowledged the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, with the former to come into effect as soon as the sides have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices.

“The people of Syria have suffered enough,” the statement said.

“Their tragedy is now felt throughout the region and beyond.

They deserve the full attention and commitment from all their Syrian representatives, who should now show leadership and vision to overcome differences for the sake of Syria.”

The statement was issued one day after a top Syrian rebel leader was killed in an air strike on the outskirts of Damascus. The death of Zahran Allush, who led one of the most-powerful groups battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, dealt a significant setback to the opposition.

More than 250,000 people have been killed in the war that grew out of a Syrian government crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in early 2011.

Islamic State militants have used the chaos to seize territory in Syria and Iraq, and some 4.3 million Syrians have fled.