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John Kerry calls for Syrian peace talks to move forward amid ceasefire

By Eric DuVall   |   Updated March 12, 2016 at 7:08 PM
| License Photo

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 12 (UPI) -- U.S. and international diplomats pledged peace talks on the Syrian civil war would go on as planned, despite violations of a ceasefire agreement now two weeks old.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Saudi Arabia, said violence in the war-torn country has decreased dramatically.

"The level of violence by all accounts has been reduced by 80 to 90 percent, which is very, very significant," Kerry said.

He faulted government forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for continuing to fight in some places.

Still, Kerry said, the talks should move forward while hostilities have been reduced.

A political solution to the civil war, however, does not appear any closer than it was after a previous round of talks collapsed last month.

United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has called for elections to be held there in 18 months. Meanwhile, opposition fighters in Syria have called for the implementation of an interim government with full executive power -- that does not include Assad -- to run the country in the meantime.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the presidential delegation would leave the negotiation site in Geneva before talks even began if Assad's leaving power was up for consideration.

The Syrian opposition umbrella group the High Negotiations Committee, said it would send a delegation to Geneva despite the Assad government's threat to call off the talks.

More than 250,000 people have been killed in the bloody civil war and millions more have been forced to flee their homes, creating a massive refugee crisis through the Middle East and Europe.

Kerry said the reduction in violence has allowed aid workers to access parts of the country with food, water and medicine that have not been reached since at least last year.

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