The U.N. Security Council said Friday that it looked forward to talks on Syria in Kazakhstan as "an important step" ahead of the resumption of U.N.-led talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva next month.
A council statement, after a closed-door briefing by U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman, urged all parties to respect the cease-fire, which excludes al-Qaida-linked militants and the Islamic State group. Both the government and rebels have carried out attacks despite the truce, which has been in place since December 30.
Council members "welcomed and supported the efforts of Russia and Turkey to end violence, establish a cease-fire and jump-start a U.N.-led political process." The talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, start Monday, and council members welcomed that meeting as a prelude to a new round of intra-Syria talks in Geneva on February 8, led by U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura.
Sweden's U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog, the current council president, said the statement supported by all 15 members addressed concerns that Astana might become a new path to deal with the Syria crisis by making very clear that Monday's talks "represent an important steppingstone coming back to U.N.-led talks in Geneva." He said council members expected conditions for the cease-fire and respect for the truce to be discussed in Astana "and hopefully boosted." The council statement also reiterated calls "to allow humanitarian agencies rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria."
Members also strongly condemned "the ongoing barbaric terrorist acts" by the Islamic State extremist group in Syria, "including the destruction of cultural heritage such as parts of the Roman Theater in Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site." The government and experts said Friday that the militants had destroyed parts of the second-century Roman amphitheater in their latest attack on world heritage, an act the U.N. cultural agency called a "war crime."