Mistura to lead UN delegation at Astana Syria talks

Staffan de Mistura

GENEVA - The UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura will attend peace talks in the Kazakh capital next week, the United Nations said Thursday, after previously announcing he was sending a deputy.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked De Mistura to attend "in light of the complexity and importance of the issues likely to be raised in Astana, and of the senior level at which the conveners of the meeting will be represented," said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
On Tuesday, de Mistura's office said he had designated his deputy Ramzy E. Ramzy to go to Kazakhstan, but plans changed with Guterres and de Mistura together at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The Astana talks are being organized by Iran, Russia and Turkey with rebel leaders and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's representatives expected to meet face to face.
De Mistura said he wants UN-moderated negotiations to resume in Geneva on February 8.
Assad said the Astana talks will focus on enforcing a cessation of hostilities to allow aid access across the country, with key rebel groups also putting the truce at the top of the agenda.
In Geneva, the head of the UN's humanitarian task force for Syria, Jan Egeland told reporters that the ceasefire brokered in December by Moscow and Ankara has been a "disappointment" in terms of improving humanitarian access.
"That has to change," he said, calling Astana a key opportunity to push for more aid deliveries.
Egeland complained that aside from fighting a "bureaucratic quagmire" imposed by the regime and opposition forces was consistently blocking civilians from receiving life-saving supplies.
Egeland and the UN's World Food Programme also said food supplies in the desert town of Deir Ezzor, besieged by the Islamic State group (IS) since 2015, could run out in a few weeks.
WFP had to suspend humanitarian air drops in Deir Ezzor on Sunday because of heavy fighting after a fierce assault by IS.
The 93,000 people living under siege in Deir Ezzor "really do not have any lifeline other than relief by air", Egeland said.