UN peace envoy for Syria heading to Moscow, Washington
The UN peace envoy to Syria said Monday he was heading directly to Moscow in a bid to promote a political end to the conflict, as Russia intensifies its air strikes.
"I am on my way tonight to Moscow," Staffan de Mistura told reporters in Geneva, acknowledging that the Russian air strikes in Syria had "introduced new dynamics" to the brutal conflict.
Russia says its air strikes, which began on September 30 and are coordinated with Syria's government, are targeting the Islamic State jihadist group and other "terrorists".
But the opposition and its backers say Moscow has focused more on moderate and Islamist rebels rather than jihadists and is trying to shore up President Bashar al-Assad's government.
De Mistura refused to judge Russia's action, but did stress that "in all cases, the protection of civilians should be a priority, especially when actions are performed by military forces of Security Council members."
He pointed out that some 40,000 people had fled since the beginning of the Russian airstrikes "in fear of a further military escalation," adding to the many millions already displaced inside Syria.
The Italian-Swedish diplomat said he would travel on to Washington, which has also been carrying out airstrikes in Syria "immediately after" his Moscow visit, as he struggles to set up so-called contact groups of countries with interests and influence in the Syria conflict that could help it move towards a political solution.
De Mistura proposed in July creating the contact groups in addition to four working groups composed of Syrian opposition and government representatives to discuss issues including protecting civilians and reconstruction.
Syria's key opposition National Coalition said Sunday it would boycott the proposed talks, marking a major setback to his efforts.
The Coalition slammed the Russian air campaign, and has also been disappointed by the consultative nature of De Mistura's proposal, saying the talks fall short of proper negotiations.
"I regret and however respect their decision and hope it can evolve," De Mistura told reporters.
The Syrian government has meanwhile said it will take part in the working groups, and de Mistura said it had sent over a list of participants.
Two opposition groups outside the coalition, including the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, told AFP Monday they would join as well.
- Urgent push -
De Mistura refused to reveal the proposed makeup of the working groups, but said Russia and the United States would clearly make up the "nucleus core" of the outside contact group.
"But then, without Saudi Arabia and Iran and Turkey and other regional players, obviously any contact group would not be possible or become productive," he added.
De Mistura insisted that there could be no military solution to the conflict, which has killed a quarter of a million people since it erupted in March 2011.
"There is an urgent push for a parallel political process, which should be credible, all inclusive and within the parameters of the Geneva communique," he said.
The Geneva communique is a document agreed at a peace conference in 2012 that drew up baselines for a Syria peace deal including the formation of a transitional governing body with executive powers.
It was the basis for two rounds of failed peace talks in Geneva under De Mistura's predecessors -- respected diplomats Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi -- who both resigned after failing to bring peace to the country.
De Mistura said he hoped his planned working groups would serve as "preparation for what one day we hope will be the Geneva 3 conference."
He warned that the worst-case scenario if no political solution is found is "partition, which is de facto already being seen as a possibility."
"We consider that a tragedy."
© 2015 AFP