The Latest: Kerry urges both sides to engage in Syria talks

AP News
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Posted: Jan 31, 2016 11:48 AM
The Latest: Kerry urges both sides to engage in Syria talks

GENEVA (AP) — The Latest on U.N.-hosted Syria peace talks in Geneva (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is imploring Syria's government and rebels to take advantage of U.N.-sponsored peace negotiations.

Kerry, the diplomatic effort's main architect, says the nearly five-year war must end. He says a ceasefire would allow all to focus on defeating the Islamic State group.

Indirect talks started in Geneva recently, without the main opposition group. The Higher Negotiations Committee says it won't engage in the talks until several preconditions are met.

But the rebels' also have deep reservations about the negotiation process itself.

The 18-month transition plan says nothing about President Bashar Assad's future. The opposition hopes to quickly oust Assad, an objective the U.S. no longer pursues.

Kerry said Sunday that peace was in everyone's interest.

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3:30 p.m.

The U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura says he is "optimistic and determined," describing indirect peace talks between the government and the opposition as "a historic occasion" to end the country's civil war.

The U.N.-sponsored peace talks began Friday with the absence of the main opposition bloc that says it first wants an end to Russian and government bombardment as well as lifting the siege of rebel-held areas before joining the talks.

De Mistura told reporters after meeting members of the main opposition bloc known as the Higher Negotiations Committee at a Geneva hotel on Sunday that "they deserve that I pay attention to their own concerns."

He said opposition members have been "exchanging with me some of their own ideas and they will let you know and let me know when and how they can be part of this exercise."

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3:00 p.m.

The head of the Syrian government delegation says the opposition is not serious about what are meant to be U.N.-hosted indirect peace talks and is trying to derail them with preconditions.

Bashar Jaafari spoke to reporters in Geneva on Sunday, two days after the meetings got off to a shaky start.

Opposition delegates say they will meet with the U.N. mediator, Staffan de Mistura, but will not negotiate until their preconditions are met. These include lifting the siege imposed on rebel-held areas and an end to Russian and Syrian bombardment of regions controlled by opposition fighters.

Jaafari said that he "will not accept any preconditions" and that there is still no agreement on the composition of the opposition delegation. He says that threatening to pull out of talks "does not show any form of seriousness."

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2:45 p.m.

The Syrian government says that the death toll from a triple explosion in a suburb of the capital of Damascus has risen to 45.

A website linked to the Islamic State group said Sunday's explosions were carried out by IS supporters.

The blasts came as a U.N. envoy attempted to launch indirect peace talks between delegations sent to Geneva by the Syrian government and the opposition.

The state news agency SANA quoted a Syrian Interior Ministry official as saying at least 45 people were killed when three explosions went off Sunday in the Sayyda Zeinab area south of the capital, Damascus.

SANA said the attackers detonated a car bomb at a bus station, followed by two blasts set off by suicide bombers as rescuers rushed to the scene of the first explosion.

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12:30 p.m.

A Syrian official says President Bashar Assad's government will "never accept" the removal of two militant groups from a list of terrorist organizations barred from peace talks.

Ahrar al-Sham and the Army of Islam, two Islamic groups fighting to overthrow Assad, agreed to take part in U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

But the Syrian government and its close ally Russia view both as terrorist groups that should be excluded from the process, along with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's local affiliate.

Information Minister Omar al-Zoubi's comments to state TV late Saturday came as the main opposition delegation arrived in Geneva.

The delegation has named Army of Islam official Mohammed Alloush as its chief negotiator.

Most parties agree that IS and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front should be excluded.