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Syria opposition chief says peace efforts 'paralysed,' still sees opportunity

Hariri sees chance amid lull in fighting to make progress towards political solution to Syria war
Syria opposition leader Nasr al-Hariri calls for different peace efforts to work together (AFP/file photo)

Syria's opposition chief on Saturday said peace efforts were "paralysed" amid a lack of will from key international powers, after meeting the latest UN envoy tasked with ending the civil war. 

Norwegian Geir Pedersen replaced Staffan de Mistura this month to become the fourth United Nations negotiator aiming to resolve what is now almost eight years of conflict. 

The diplomat faces the daunting task of rekindling moribund peace talks and succeeding where his three predecessors failed.

He met opposition leader Nasr al-Hariri on Friday in Riyadh, where the Syrian lives in exile, after holding talks with government representatives in Damascus. 

"Pedersen is the fourth emissary and was preceded by other respected envoys," Hariri told AFP. "The absence of international will to push towards a political solution has hampered the UN and its envoys from doing anything."

"I think that we have an opportunity, because in Syria we almost have a ceasefire now, in the northeast of Syria and the north of Syria, and the efforts of fighting terrorism have achieved good results," Nasr Hariri told Reuters in an interview.

"Now it is time to invest all of these developments: the ceasefire, fighting terrorism, the belief of the majority of the Syrian people that the only solution to the Syrian crisis is the political solution," Hariri said.

In late October, the leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany met in Istanbul and called for a political solution to Syria's devastating civil war.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke for several hours with Russia's Vladimir Putin, France's Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the conflict.

They issued a joint statement calling for a committee to be established to draft Syria's post-war constitution before the end of the year, "paving the way for free and fair elections" in the war-torn country.

De Mistura ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push to form the committee tasked with drawing up the post-war constitution after seeing repeated rounds of talks in Geneva come to nothing. 

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During his time he saw the UN-led efforts overshadowed by separate negotiations backed by government allies Russia and Iran and opposition supporter Turkey in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. 

"Some parties from Astana who support the regime are continuing to obstruct the formation of the constitutional committee," Hariri said. 

"The political process is paralysed," he said, calling for the different international efforts to work hand-in-hand and not compete against each other. 

Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.

With key military backing from Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and militants, and now control almost two-thirds of the country.

A drive to bring the Syrian government back into the Arab fold also seems underway, with the United Arab Emirates reopening their embassy in Damascus last month.

Hariri insisted that it remained "impossible" for millions of Syrian refugees living oversees to return or for the country to be rebuilt "without a political solution" to the war.