UN envoy to Syria underlines necessity to protect civilians
DAMASCUS - The United Nations peace envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, ended a three-day trip to Damascus Wednesday, condemning the deaths of civilians in both government and rebel fire.
De Mistura met government officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, during the visit, briefing them on consultations he is holding in Geneva with various parties to the conflict.
His spokeswoman said de Mistura's meetings also focused on "the necessity of protecting civilians."
"He underlined once again that the use of barrel bombs is unacceptable," a statement said.
Barrel bombs are crude weapons -- containers packed with explosives and scrap metal that are typically dropped from helicopters.
Assad has denied his government uses the weapons, which rights groups say kill indiscriminately.
De Mistura also specifically condemned government shelling and aerial bombardment on Tuesday of the rebel-held area of Douma, which killed at least 24 people, according to a Britain-based monitor.
And he condemned rebel forces for attacks targeting civilians in both Damascus and Aleppo.
At least 34 people, including 12 children, were killed Monday in rebel fire on the government-controlled western portion of Aleppo city.
And nine people were killed Tuesday evening in opposition fire on a garden in central Damascus.
The statement said de Mistura "underscored the dire humanitarian situation on the ground and he insisted on greater access to besieged areas and conflict-affected communities, particularly in light of the (Muslim fasting) month of Ramadan" that begins Thursday.
In addition to government officials, de Mistura met more than 30 political, religious and civil society figures.
De Mistura launched a fresh round of consultative talks in Geneva with regional and local stakeholders in Syria's conflict, including Iran, on May 5, in a bid to kickstart political negotiations on the crisis.
Participants have included government officials and members of the opposition-in-exile National Coalition, as well as representatives from regional countries, policy experts and civil society groups.
The talks will continue throughout July, after which de Mistura will present an assessment to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country's conflict began in March 2011.