UN envoy says intra-Syrian peace talks "officially" start after meeting opposition

Geneva :- Syrian peace talks have formerly commenced in Geneva after a rocky run-up to the talks, the UN peace envoy said on Monday.

“We are starting officially the Geneva talks... The discussions are starting." Staffan de Mistura told reporters. "We will meet the government tomorrow (Tuesday) and will invite the HNC (High Negotiations Committee) tomorrow afternoon to go deeper into the issues raised."

The main Syrian opposition umbrella group also said that it would "strive to join the political process" after receiving "positive messages" from de Mistura about ending Russian airstrikes and stopping sieges. 

The announcement comes after the main opposition group met formally with the UN special envoy as part of the latest attempt to try and bring about an end to the devastating conflict.

The preliminary meeting was the first to take place between the HNC and de Mistura.

"We came to find a solution," Mohammed Alloush, the chief negotiator for the main Syrian opposition body, the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, told AFP after arriving in Geneva.

However “there is no common ground with the regime. The regime wants to eliminate the opposition." 

After the meeting, HNC accused Syrian government ally Russia of helping to turn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into a "new Hitler" by supporting his forces in the war-ravaged country.

"Russian regime will create a new Hitler. We are suffering from a Hitler in Syria," said HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet.

The Syrian government and its ally Moscow consider Jaish al-Islam to be "terrorists" who should not be part of negotiations to end Syria's almost five-year-old civil war.

The talks were dealt a small blow on Sunday evening when the Syrian Democratic Council - a US-backed coalition made up mainly Syrian Kurds and some Arab fighters – said that it would not participate

"We decided on Sunday night to suspend our participation in negotiations so long as the five Kurdish and one Turkman delegates from our list do not receive invitations from UN mediator Staffan de Mistura," Syrian Democratic Council co-president Haytham Manna told AFP.

The SDC has sought to take part in the Geneva talks despite being excluded from the HNC.

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