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UN ramps up efforts to end Syria’s 5-year-old civil war

A photograph provided by the United Nations on

A photograph provided by the United Nations on February 27, 2016 shows UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, right, during a meeting in the operations center that provides 24/7 communications and liaison support for the Ceasefire Taskforce at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images / JEAN-MARC FERRE

UNITED NATIONS — Diplomats intensified efforts to resolve the 5-year-old civil war in Syria this week, meeting in Vienna and Geneva to reaffirm commitment to a political solution and prevent a fragile cessation of hostilities from sliding back into all-out war.

Staffan de Mistura, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy to Syria, who has coordinated the diplomatic effort to end a complex war, said Thursday he was not willing yet to restart the Geneva-based Intra-Syrian peace talks, on hiatus since April 27, until the fighting subsided and humanitarian aid convoys flowed into up to 18 besieged areas of the country.

De Mistura spoke in Geneva, fresh from a meeting in Vienna with the International Syrian Support Group, a coalition of U.S.- and Russian-led countries dedicated to the resolution of the war that has left some 300,000 people dead, sent millions of Syrians into neighboring countries and trapped others behind combatants’ lines out of the reach of food, water and medicine.

The terrorist groups Islamic State and the Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, have seized upon the chaos and joined the fighting in a bid to overthrow President Bashar Assad. The war, which began in March 2011, has drawn tens of thousands of foreign fighters.

After a drastic reduction of the conflict by up to 85 percent in late February, warfare has now reached levels of about 50 percent of what they were since the cessation of hostilities took hold, de Mistura said. He added that diplomats at the ISSG meeting in Vienna were upset to learn that soldiers had even blocked the delivery of baby food to infants in Darayya.

“There was a profound unhappiness, I would say impatience, regarding the fact that not all the besieged areas were being reached and that we were constantly coming up with a reminder that all besieged areas need to be reached and that was not happening,” he said Thursday. “And the last drop, let’s call it like this, was Darayya, when we very close to do so, and baby food was not reaching, stopped by grown-up, well-fed soldiers, and those were stopping baby food to actually go to Darayya.”

He said Syrian government forces, opposition forces and even the Islamic State have converted cities into garrisons cut off from society.

Violence, which was once reduced to a few skirmishes after the cessation of hostilities pact was entered, is up and the delivery of aid to suffering civilians, which rose considerably at the start of the cessation, is down, de Mistura said.

Both problems, he said, prevent the restart of talks in Geneva that should ultimately end the war. De Mistura said he would authorize delivery of food and supplies by airdrop, an expensive and logistically challenging “last resort” operation, by the start of June if convoys by land were still blocked.

“If we don’t have the atmosphere conducive for increasing the cessation of hostilities tenure, which has gone down from 80, 85 to 50 [percent] and we do not get what we have been asking, and everyone has been asking, a substantial improvement on the humanitarian access, then the credibility of the next round of talks will be in question and I do not want to expose that,” he said. “Therefore I am not going to give you a date.”

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