UN envoy says Syria constitution talks to resume, 4 killed

February 16, 2022 GMT
The U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to reporters after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in Damascus, Syria Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Pedersen said he expects a committee representing the Syrian government and the opposition to resume talks next month over draft constitutional reforms. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
The U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to reporters after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in Damascus, Syria Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Pedersen said he expects a committee representing the Syrian government and the opposition to resume talks next month over draft constitutional reforms. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
The U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to reporters after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in Damascus, Syria Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Pedersen said he expects a committee representing the Syrian government and the opposition to resume talks next month over draft constitutional reforms. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
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The U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to reporters after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in Damascus, Syria Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Pedersen said he expects a committee representing the Syrian government and the opposition to resume talks next month over draft constitutional reforms. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)
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The U.N. special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen speaks to reporters after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in Damascus, Syria Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Pedersen said he expects a committee representing the Syrian government and the opposition to resume talks next month over draft constitutional reforms. (AP Photo/Omar Sanadiki)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The U.N.’s special envoy for Syria said Wednesday he expects a committee representing the Syrian government and the opposition to resume talks next month over draft constitutional reforms.

Geir Pedersen’s comments came as opposition activists reported that government shelling hit a fuel market in the country’s northwest killing four people and causing a huge fire.

Pedersen spoke to reporters in the capital of Damascus after he met with Syrian officials, including Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, over the country’s lengthy conflict.

Talks were last held in Geneva in October when Pedersen said the Syrian government’s refusal to negotiate on revisions to the country’s constitution was a key reason for their failure.

“I must say that after my discussions today, I am more optimistic that it will be possible to convene the seventh round of the drafting body of the constitutional committee, hopefully sometime in March,” Pedersen said.

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Syria’s conflict that began in March 2011 has killed half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, including more than 5 million refugees mostly in neighboring countries. Though fighting has subsided in recent months, there are still pockets controlled by the Syrian opposition, where millions of people live.

A 2012 U.N. road map to peace in Syria approved by representatives of the United Nations, Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members calls for the drafting of a new constitution. It ends with U.N.-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate. A Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015 unanimously endorsed the road map.

Pedersen said he would meet later Wednesday with government representative Ahmad Kuzbari and then contact the opposition’s Syrian National Council after which “we will be able to send out an invitation.”

The talks in October followed a nine-month hiatus in the U.N.-led meetings of the Syrian constitutional committee.

At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. A smaller 45-member body would do the actual drafting, including 15 members each from the government, opposition and civil society. It took until September 2019 for the committee to be formed.

In the country’s northwest, Syrian government shelling hit a fuel market Wednesday killing four people, wounding others and triggering a huge fire, an opposition war monitor and paramedics said.

The attack on the village of Tirmanin comes amid increasing tensions near the last major rebel stronghold in northwest Syria and two days after government shelling of a nearby village killed six people, including two children.

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The opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense group, also known as the White Helmets, said four people were killed in the Wednesday afternoon attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, also reported that four people were killed, including two brothers, and three others wounded.

Idlib province is the last rebel stronghold in war-torn Syria, and is home to about 3 million people, many of them internally displaced. It is regularly bombed by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

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Mroue reported from Beirut.