‘Progress made’ in Vienna talks about syria

World leaders say progress has been made in talks to resolve Syria’s civil war after “historic” talks in Vienna, but they continue to differ on the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Vienna talks involved Iran, Syria’s ally, for the first time.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s human rights chief, said there were grounds to start a UN-led peace process.

The talks comes as activists say a Syrian government attack on a Damascus suburb left at least 57 people dead.

The meeting sought to close the gap between the US and its allies, who support the rebels, and the key foreign allies of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran.

Iran’s growing role

Where key countries stand

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‘We went back 200 years’

The four-year-old war in Syria, which began with an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has left 250,000 people dead and forced half the country’s population – or 11 million people – from their homes.

Russia and Iran have recently stepped up their military involvement in the conflict, backing forces loyal to Mr Assad.

But the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations have long insisted that Mr Assad cannot play a long-term role in Syria’s future.

After the eight-hour meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said there was some common agreement among those attending, including on a new Syrian constitution and the role of the UN in Syria.

“As far as we are concerned, we think that Bashar al-Assad has no place in the future of Syria,” Mr Fabius said. “Other people, other countries think differently, particularly Iran.”

More talks will be held within two weeks, he said.

“This meeting was definitely not an easy one,” said Ms Mogherini, “but for sure an historic one as we had, for the first time, all the actors around the table and I would say a very constructive atmosphere.”

UK Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond called it “a very worthwhile day”.


Where key players stand on Assad

If not Assad, then who?


Before the meeting, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that other powers had realised that there was no way of reaching “a reasonable solution” to the Syrian conflict without involving Tehran.

Media captionSaudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says there is “no doubt” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “will go”

Neither the Syrian government nor the opposition were at the talks, although Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Russia had supported the Free Syria Army being involved.

Representatives of the EU and other Middle East countries also attended.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 100 people were wounded in what it said was a Syrian government air raid in Douma.

At least five children were among the dead, the group reported.

Footage uploaded to the internet – which cannot be independently verified – showed bodies strewn across the ruins of a marketplace in the rebel-held suburb of Douma.

The area is often targeted by the government, and rebels fire rockets from there into Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 12 rockets were fired at Douma.

US troops to Syria

Meanwhile, a US official told the BBC that the Obama administration is preparing to send “fewer than 50” special forces troops to Syria.

The troops would advise rebels supported by Washington in the fight against Islamist State (IS) militants, US media reported.

US special operations forces have previously taken part in at least two raids in Syria.

In May, troops killed senior IS member Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife in eastern Syria, and, last summer, forces failed in an operation to rescue American hostages including journalist James Foley, who was later beheaded by IS fighters.

Russia began its military intervention in Syria at the end of last month, launching air strikes in support of Mr Assad and said on Friday it had hit 1,600 targets in the last month, including 51 training camps.



Why is there a war in Syria?

Anti-government protests developed into a civil war that, four years on, has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory.

Who is fighting whom?

Government forces concentrated in Damascus and the centre and west of Syria are fighting the jihadists of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, as well as less numerous so-called “moderate” rebel groups, who are strongest in the north and east. These groups are also battling each other.

What’s the human cost?

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and a million injured. Some 11 million others have been forced from their homes, of whom four million have fled abroad – including growing numbers who are making the dangerous journey to Europe.

How has the world reacted?

Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are propping up the Alawite-led Assad government, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France. Hezbollah and Iran are believed to have troops and officers on the ground, while a Western-led coalition and Russia are carrying out air strikes.

Source – BBC NEWS

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