Syria ceasefire holding ahead of Constitutional Committee: UN envoy

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A ceasefire in northeast Syria seems to be holding “by and large,” as major powers gather in Geneva ahead of the first meeting of Syria’s Constitutional Committee next week, the UN Special Envoy told Reuters on Thursday.

Geir Pedersen said that envoys from seven Arab and Western states backing the opposition, known as the “small group”, which includes the United States, are due to meet in the Swiss city on Friday.

Senior officials from the so-called Astana three – Russia, Iran, and Turkey – were expected in the coming days, but he awaited confirmation.

The major powers would not participate directly in the “Syrian-owned, Syrian-led” constitutional effort, or the opening public ceremony, but they supported the process, he said.

Talks are on track despite Turkey’s cross-border offensive launched on October 9 after President Donald Trump ordered US forces out of northeast Syria. Turkey and Russia, the Assad government’s main ally, have agreed on a peace plan calling for Kurdish forces to withdraw more than 30 km from the Turkish border.

“It seems that by and large that the ceasefire is holding. That of course doesn’t mean that there will not be challenges,” Pedersen said in an interview in his UN office.

He had reports that some of the 160,000 people who fled the incursion are starting to return to their homes.

Convening the Constitutional Committee, the first tangible progress since the Norwegian diplomat took up the UN job in January, is seen as key to paving the way for political reforms and new elections in the country wracked by eight years of war that have killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions to flee.

“No one believes that the Constitutional Committee in itself will solve the conflict. But if it is understood as part of a broader political process, it could be a door-opener and a very important of course symbolic beginning of a political process,” Pedersen said.