UNITED NATIONS -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday announced the formation of a constitutional committee for Syria, in an effort to advance a peace process and resolve political disputes in the country after nearly eight years of war.
"I strongly believe that the launch of the Syrian-owned and Syrian-led constitutional committee can, and must, be the beginning of the political path out of the tragedy," Guterres said in New York.
The U.N. chief noted that the committee is backed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the main countries involved in the Syrian peace process.
The launch of a process for a new constitution and the formation of the committee started at a conference in Russia in January 2018. Agreeing on the full list of members has taken more than 18 months.
Drafting a new constitution is a key element in a broader political process that would include U.N.-monitored elections to end the eight-year conflict.
The committee is to be made of 150 members, with 50 government delegates, 50 opposition members and the rest chosen by the U.N. envoy.
A road map for a peace plan, a project led by the U.N., was launched in 2012, a year after the start of the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad.
The Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, has largely regained control over most of the country, though rebels, including hard-line Islamist factions, still control the northern province of Idlib, on the border with Turkey.
On April 30 the Syrian government, bolstered by Russian air power, began a military offensive against rebels in the provinces of Hama and Idlib.
Since then, government forces have regained dozens of regions in the southern countryside of Idlib and in the northern rural areas of Hama, which were under rebel control.
Kurdish factions and the U.S. control the northeast, having seized that territory from the Islamic State as they defeated the extremist group.
Morgan Ortagus, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said the U.S. welcomes the announcement calling it an "encouraging step."
"Vicious attacks by the Assad regime and its allies against innocent Syrians in Idlib must cease immediately for the humanitarian crisis to end and for the political process to go forward," Ortagus added.
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