The Latest: Syria envoy: 'Premature' to talk of transition

AP News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2016 2:57 PM
The Latest: Syria envoy: 'Premature' to talk of transition

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria and the peace talks underway in Geneva (all times local):

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9 p.m.

The U.N. mediator for Syria says political transition is the "mother of all issues" in indirect peace talks between the government and opposition. For President Bashar Assad's supporters, it's too early to talk about that prospect.

After meeting with the Syrian government delegation Monday, Staffan de Mistura explained to reporters that its top envoy — Syria's U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari — had told him it was "premature" to talk about political transition.

De Mistura said that he replied: "My message was: Premature means imminent as far as we are concerned."

Asked at a separate news conference about the political transition sought under a U.N. Security Council resolution, Ja'afari said Assad "has nothing to do with the Syrian-Syrian indirect talks" and said the subject was "already excluded from the scene."

The comments came as the resumption of indirect peace talks entered a second week in Geneva. De Mistura said, "We are in a hurry" before this phase concludes by the end of this week and the delegations take a previously scheduled break until April.

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8 p.m.

The head of Syria's government delegation at peace talks in Geneva says the talks are positive but so far no progress has been made in this round of talks.

Bashar Ja'afari, Syria's U.N. ambassador, says a week and a half has been "wasted" waiting for a response from the other side to a document containing "fundamental principles" for negotiations that his team submitted to the U.N.'s Syria envoy last week.

The document focuses on the importance of fighting terrorism in Syria before anything else. "We did not get any response from the other side," Ja'afari told reporters in Geneva Monday after meeting with the U.N. envoy, Staffan de Mistura.

He added that the opposition is procrastinating and not engaging in serious negotiations.

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3:20 p.m.

Activists who monitor the Syrian war say that a militant faction loyal to the Islamic State group has taken a village in southern Syria that was previously in the hands of an al-Qaida affiliate and other militant factions.

The two activist groups — the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees — say that Yarmouk Martyrs Brigades, which are loyal to the IS, captured the village of Tseel on Monday.

The Observatory said three fighters were killed on the side of al-Qaida's branch for Syria, known as the Nusra Front, including the group's top commander for the south.

The fighting came days after clashes between the Nusra Front and groups loyal to IS in southern Syria.

In November, an explosion in the south targeted a meeting of top officials from the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, killing its leader Abu Ali al-Baridi and others. Nusra Front was blamed for the bombing

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2:30 p.m.

The Arab League has rejected last week's declaration by Syrian Kurds of a de-facto federal region in northern Syria.

The league's deputy chief, Ahmed bin Helli, said on Monday that calls for federalization could impact Syria's unity.

Last Thursday, a meeting of some 200 Kurdish officials declared they were establishing a federal region. The officials insisted they are not seeking secession — but rather making sure the country remains one nation.

In Syria's civil war, Kurdish fighters have emerged as the most effective fighting force against the Islamic State group and are backed militarily by the United States.

The Kurds, a longtime oppressed minority, have taken advantage of the chaos of the civil war to advance their goals of autonomy. After government troops withdrew from Kurdish areas to focus elsewhere in Syria, they declared their own civil administration in 2013.

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2:20 p.m.

The European Union's foreign policy chief has expressed optimism about Syria's peace process, urging international and regional actors to build on current, favorable conditions.

Federica Mogherini says the recent developments have shown "positive" steps unseen in the previous five years of conflict in Syria. She was speaking about a truce that has been relatively holding across Syria since Feb. 27 and the flow of hundreds of trucks carrying aid to besieged areas.

Mogherini spoke during a visit to Lebanon, where she met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil. She says they also spoke about Syrian refugees and attacks that have hit Lebanon and Europe.

Syria's second round of U.N.-sponsored talks between the government and opposition, which resumed in Geneva last week, are to continue on Monday.