May 26, 2:55 PM EDT

UN envoy to Syria: Peace talks not set to resume for weeks



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GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N. envoy for Syria plans a resumption of peace talks "as soon as feasible" between the government and opposition, but he set no new date and expects that it will "certainly not" come within the next two to three weeks, his office said Thursday.

The lack of a solid date from Staffan de Mistura for the resumption testifies to continued violence in Syria and difficulties for U.N. efforts to ship humanitarian aid to beleaguered Syrians amid fighting between President Bashar Assad's troops and their allies and rebel fighters. The talks were suspended last month with little to no progress.

De Mistura, in a closed-door videoconference briefing to the U.N. Security Council, "reiterated the need to see progress on the ground - particularly in reference to the cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access," his office said in a statement.

"He briefed on his intention to start the next round of talks as soon as feasible but certainly not within the next two/three weeks," it said.

In New York, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Washington shared the "frustrations and concerns" of de Mistura, and pointed a finger at Russia - which has backed Assad's forces.

"It is clear that violence has increased in the past month and is nearing pre-cessation of hostilities levels. It is also clear that the dangers to the cessation are largely being driven by the Syrian regime and its allies and attacks on civilians," she said.

"Russia has special responsibility to press the Assad regime to abide by the cessation of hostility and end its bombardment and siege of innocent civilians," Power added.

Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday, de Mistura noted a "sense of urgency" for resuming the talks before Aug. 1 - a previously announced deadline for an agreement.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins in the first week of June, "will not be a factor" in determining the talks' timetable, de Mistura added.

Also Thursday, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator for Syria, Jan Egeland, sounded alarm bells, saying the threat of children dying from malnutrition hangs over at least three communities besieged by government troops.

Access to besieged areas in Syria has fallen short of what was planned for May, he said. Of 1 million people, only 160,000 have been reached with aid so far, Egeland said, citing problems including government restrictions.

Two Damascus suburbs - Daraya and Moadamiyeh - and the al-Waer district of the central Syrian city of Homs, which are all besieged by government forces, are locations where the situation "is still horrendously critical," Egeland said.

"Children are so malnourished in these places that they will be dying if we are not able to reach them," he added.

Additionally, activists in Daraya said government forces shelled several areas in the town Thursday, attempting to advance from the south in violation of a cease-fire. There were no reports of casualties.

The International Support Group of Syria, which includes the U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, had set a June 1 deadline for the resumption of humanitarian aid to areas cut off from the outside world, saying if land routes remain blocked, food aid will be air dropped.

At least 700 tons of aid has been air dropped on at least 110,000 people in areas besieged by Islamic State fighters in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour.

De Mistura said the World Food Program is preparing new aid drops but the government of Syria needs to cooperate more to make them happen.

Activists in besieged areas of Damascus and Homs appealed in a Facebook statement to the Syrian opposition to boycott any future talks until aid is allowed in.

Considering air drops "is a shy step by an international community promising to impose a political solution on the regime, yet incapable thus far of compelling it to allow humanitarian aid," the statement said.

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Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut, and Michael Astor at the United Nations, contributed to this report.

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