Syrian peace talks to begin January 22 in Swiss town

Photo: Syrian peace talks to begin January 22 in Swiss town / Arabic region

Long-planned peace talks between the Syrian government and rebels are to be held in Geneva on January 24, two days after a meeting of foreign ministers, a UN official said Tuesday, dpa reported.

The foreign ministers will first meet on January 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux, said Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.

The actual negotiations between the Syrian government and the rebels would follow two days later at the United Nations in Geneva.

The Geneva II talks are sponsored by Russia and the United States, and are intended to bring about agreement on a political transition in war-torn Syria, including the formation of an interim governing authority.

Both the government and the Western- and Gulf-backed opposition National Coalition have said they will attend, although the coalition says its presence is tied to President Bashar al-Assad having no role in the transitional period.

The Syrian government has said that al-Assad will remain in place until his presidential term expires next year and that he may run for re-election.

Islamist groups, increasingly the dominant opposition force on the ground in Syria, have rejected the talks.

On Monday, UN agencies launched one of the biggest-ever relief appeals for a single emergency, calling for 6.5 billion dollars for Syrians in 2014.

In his year-end address in New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Syrian civil war had deteriorated "beyond all imagination."

The agencies are planning for up to 4.1 million refugees by late 2014 - out of Syria's pre-war population of 22.4 million. More than 2.3 million Syrians have fled their country since 2011, with more than 4 million displaced inside its borders.

The Syrian uprising started in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but descended into civil war after President Bashar al-Assad's regime sought to quell the demonstrations with violence.

More than 100,000 people have been killed, according to UN estimates.

Meanwhile, the husband of one of four prominent Syrian rights activists abducted last week from the town of Douma outside Damascus accused a key group in the recently formed rebel Islamic Front of responsibility for the kidnapping.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition watchdog, said that a rebel group linked to al-Qaeda had released 71 Kurdish civilians abducted on Friday in northern Aleppo province.

The watchdog said the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) was still holding two men it seized in its raid on the village of Ahras, as well as 46 Kurds abducted in a number of locations two weeks ago.

ISIL, which along with other mainly Islamist rebel groups is fighting Kurdish forces across northern Syria, on December 2 announced a blockade of the Kurdish enclaves of Efrin and Ain al-Arab.

The observatory reported that it subsequently executed five men who attempted to bring supplies into the affected areas.

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