GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The first peace talks since 2014 to end the Syrian civil war are underway in Geneva, Switzerland.
Staffan de Mistura, a veteran U.N. diplomat, consulted with government and opposition representatives in separate negotiations Friday and Monday, later noting the call by the opposition group to end government strikes and to arrange for the release of prisoners before peace talks can be conducted in earnest.
"We feel that they have a very strong point, because this is the voice of the Syrian people asking for that. When I meet the Syrian people they tell me, 'Don't just have a conference; have also something that we can see and touch while you are meeting in Geneva,'" he said.
De Mistura met with the High Negotiations Committee, the umbrella group of opposition organizations fighting the Syrian regime, on Monday. The group's leader, Mohammad Alloush, was not present, but is awaiting the outcome of a meeting between the U.N. envoy and government officials, scheduled for Tuesday, before he decides whether to participate in the process.
"Nothing has changed in the situation on the ground. So as long as the situation is like this we are not optimistic. There are no good intentions from the regime's side to reach a solution," Alloush commented. The leader of the government delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the opposition's demands for what is essentially a cease-fire in Syria are meant to slow the peace process, adding the HNC is "not serious about peace."
Fighting continued in Syria, with government troops, aided by Russian airstrikes, capturing a village north of the city of Aleppo. The Islamic state claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a Shiite shrine near Damascus in which 72 people were killed, the monitoring agency Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported.
More than 250,000 people have died in the five-year civil war.