As U.N.-brokered peace talks to end the ongoing Syrian conflict are set to begin on March 23 in Switzerland, the Russian state RIA news agency reported on Monday that representatives for the Bashar Assad regime are to attend the fourth round of negotiations.
According to the RIA news agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov stated that "Moscow hoped the Syrian opposition would be able to attend the peace talks." While the U.N.'s special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura previously urged all parties to return the negotiation table, the Russian deputy foreign minister noted that de Mistura will visit Moscow ahead of the Geneva talks.
Commenting on the upcoming Geneva talks, Turkish diplomatic sources recently said that a "full authority transition" should be established in accordance with a U.N. resolution.
The sources further noted that "the Syrian people should write their own constitution via a new transitional administration" and claimed that "Russia's proposed constitution brought Syrian unity into question." Meanwhile, Russian diplomatic sources who also spoke anonymously to the Anadolu Agency ahead of the Geneva talks said that Moscow was aiming to create a "national unity government" by including some opposition elements from the Assad government.
In that respect, the sources added that Russia aims to eliminate a "transitional administration" from the Geneva agenda.
Also speaking on the conditions of anonymity, U.N. sources told the Anadolu Agency that "de Mistura was discussing some formulas between the political transition process envisaged in the U.N. Security Council resolution and the demands of Russia and Iran." Meanwhile, heavy clashes rocked eastern districts of the Syrian capital on Sunday as groups linked to a former al-Qaeda affiliate tried to fight their way into the city center in a surprise assault on regime forces.
The attack on Damascus comes just days before a fresh round of U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva that aim to put an end to Syria's six-year war. Opposition and regime troops had agreed to a nationwide cessation of hostilities in December but fighting has continued across much of the country, including in the capital. The attacks began early Sunday "with two car bombs and several suicide attackers" targeting the Jobar district, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. Opposition fighters then advanced into the nearby Abbasid Square area, seizing several buildings and firing a barrage of rockets into multiple Damascus neighborhoods, Abdel Rahman said. "Regime forces responded with nearly a dozen airstrikes on Jobar," he added.