The Latest on Syria talks (all times local):
The World Health Organization says Syrian health officials have reported that 84 people have been killed and another 659 injured over a four-day stretch of intensified fighting in a region near the capital, Damascus.
The U.N. health agency said the casualties occurred between Nov. 14 to Nov. 17 in clashes between rebel fighters and forces that support President Bashar Assad in the eastern Ghouta region. The area on the outskirts of Damascus has been under a government siege for more than four years.
Seventeen children and six women were among those killed.
The agency also said in a statement Wednesday that more than 200 operations were conducted in eastern Ghouta despite blockages that have prevented deliveries of humanitarian aid including life-saving medicines, medical equipment, and surgical supplies.
Elizabeth Hoff, WHO’s Representative in Syria, said medical evacuations of critically-ill patients are “long overdue.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking after Wednesday’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, said they agreed to help support a full-scale political process in Syria.
Erdogan said the three leaders discussed ways to support another round of Syria peace talks set to start in Geneva later this month. He emphasized the need to deliver humanitarian aid to Syria.
Wednesday’s talks follow Assad’s surprise visit to Russia Monday for talks with Putin
He said that the three leaders supported holding the so-called Congress of National Dialogue between Syrian factions in Sochi.
Wednesday’s talks followed Assad’s surprise visit to Russia on Monday for talks with Putin that the Kremlin said were intended to help lay the groundwork for the trilateral meeting of Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Putin, speaking after Wednesday’s talks in Sochi with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said that they agreed to encourage efforts to establish a dialogue between various political groups in Syria.
The trilateral meeting follows Syrian President Bashar Assad’s surprise visit to Russia Monday, which the Kremlin said helped lay the groundwork for Wednesday’s meeting.
Putin emphasized that Assad pledged to conduct constitutional reforms and hold new elections under U.N. supervision.
Erdogan emphasized that the three nations will help stage a meeting of Syrian groups hosted by Russia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday at the start of the talks in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi that the mini-summit “has an utmost importance for fully ending the bloodshed and putting an end to the tragedy that has lasted for many years.”
Iran’s Hassan Rouhani noted that in less than one year since their joint peace push began, the three countries “have taken massive efforts to counter terrorism and extremism and set the ground for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis.”
He also expressed hope that agreements that the three countries could reach at the summit would help “strengthen the territorial integrity of Syria.”
The mini-summit of the three countries — which earlier this year helped broker a truce between Syrian government troops and the opposition in several pockets of fighting across the war-torn country — comes two days after Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Putin in Sochi.
The Kremlin said that ahead of the meeting with Assad, Putin had assured the leaders of Turkey and Iran that Russia “will work with the Syrian leadership” to make sure that any agreements that could be reached on Wednesday between Russia, Iran and Turkey “would be viable.”
It wasn’t immediately clear, however, if the Kremlin put any pressure on Assad to accept whatever deal might come out of that summit.
The talks come as Syria-friendly Russia takes an increasing diplomatic role in efforts to end the 6-1/2-year war.
Staffan de Mistura made the comments Wednesday while addressing a meeting of the main Syrian opposition groups in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He also urged them to come together in a “strong and creative” opposition for the talks.
Alluding to the U.N.-mediated negotiations, de Mistura says: “We want to show and we want to show through you that this is the way the future of Syria can be decided.”
The United Nations envoy for Syria has urged Syrian opposition groups at the opening of a meeting hosted in the Saudi capital to come up with a united delegation for the Geneva talks later this month.
Staffan de Mistura spoke Wednesday at the opening of the three-day meeting for the Syrian opposition in Riyadh. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in opening remarks that the opposition meeting comes amid an international consensus to reach a resolution for the six-year conflict.
The meeting of the notoriously fragmented opposition is intended to come up with a unified vision ahead of the new round of peace talks in Geneva on Nov. 28.
Russia is also hosting a meeting expecte