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Staffan de Mistura calls for de-escalation on Syria

Special envoy issues appeal during visit to Moscow as inspectors wait for access to suspected gas attack site in Syria.

De Misutra-Lavrov meeting in Moscow

The UN special envoy for Syria has said tensions need to calm down between the major global powers in order to restart diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Syria.

Staffan de Mistura made the comments after holding talks on Friday with Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, in Moscow.

De Mistura said that chemical weapons inspectors in Douma, Syria, should do their job as quickly as possible and without any interference.

"We need a political de-escalation, not only a military de-escalation, and I think that would be possible with further discussions," he said.

De Mistura said he was pleased to hear that there is a "strong commitment" from Russia to push for the political process.

The meeting in Moscow follows a difficult and tense week between the US and Russia after the US and allies launched air strikes in the early hours of April 14, hitting three targets in Syria associated with its chemical weapons programme.

Russian denial

The air strikes were described as retaliation for a suspected chemical attack in Douma, a town in Eastern Ghouta, on April 7 that killed at least 70 people.

Syria and its ally Russian have denied using toxic gas in the assault on Douma.

For his part, Lavrov, speaking at a joint press conference in Moscow with his Austrian counterpart on Friday, said Russia would not accept attempts at dividing Syria and creating a permanent presence of foreign forces in the country.

"There is Resolution 2254 of the UN Security Council, under which Syria should be united and undivided and the political process should enable Syrians to define their fate without foreign interference," Lavrov said.

"All our steps are aimed at achieving this result."

Gains by government

Lavrov's comments came as inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were reportedly still waiting to visit the site of the suspected gas attack in Douma after arriving in Syria nearly a week ago.

Russia has denied accusations by the US that it is trying to delay the international inspectors' arrival at the site, which is now controlled by Syrian government forces.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is in his strongest position since the start of the war seven years ago.

Government forces have been steadily regaining more territory from the opposition.

On Thursday rebels surrendered their arms and abandoned the town of Dumayr, northeast of Damascus, after agreeing to be moved to rebel-held territories in northern Syria under an evacuation deal.

The remaining rebel factions in nearby eastern Qalamoun have also agreed to surrender without a fight due to threats of a military action by Syrian government forces.

The enclave is a strategic location for the Syrian government as it lies along the main highway between Damascus and Baghdad.

A ceasefire is in place and negotiations are set to continue on Sunday.


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