The United Nations is holding a new round of peace talks that aim to bring an end to Syria's five-year civil war. As representatives gathered in Geneva, voters in Syria turned out for parliamentary elections, which have been widely rejected both by Syrian opposition forces and world leaders. The UN hopes the talks will be successful and maintain the ceasefire that is in place.
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The talks are being brokered by Staffan de Mistura, UN's envoy to Syria. There will be no direct negotiations between the sides, but Mistura has been busy traveling to meet with world leaders in the weeks leading up to the meeting in Geneva.
Mistura went to Tehran and Moscow -- two major backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- to rally support, The Wall Street Journal reported. Representatives from Assad's regime are set to arrive in Geneva on Friday.
Meanwhile, today marked the latest round of Syria's parliamentary elections. Syrians living in regions still controlled by the government turned out to cast a vote to fill the 250-seat parliament. Syrian officials said such elections are mandated every four years by the country's constitution and will continue until a new one is drafted.
The elections, though, were widely rejected. Asaad al Zoubi, who is leading the opposition delegation in the Geneva talks, called them a "farce." Western leaders from France, Germany, and the U.S. expressed similar sentiments. The UN has said it does not recognize the vote at all.
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The main goal of the peace talks is to set a plan in place to form a new transitional government and set a date for a new general election. One of the major challenges is the political fate of Assad, who has refused to step down from his office. Zoubi is demanding that Assad be removed, calling him a "disease that has struck Syria," during a televised news conference.
The peace talks come during a ceasefire that is precariously close to being broken. The ceasefire was set back in February, but these past weeks have seen a surge in deadly violence from both sides, particularly in the divided city of Aleppo.
It's estimated that over 260,000 people have died as a result of the Syrian civil war.
Top photo: A Syrian Army soldier carries election papers while wearing a Syrian national flag watch, outside a polling station during parliamentary elections in Damascus, Syria.