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U.N.'s Egeland welcomes U.S. interest in Syria, hopes for 'watershed'

GENEVA (Reuters) - Renewed U.S. interest in the Syrian war is welcome if it leads to a fresh U.S.-Russian push for a political solution, U.N. humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said on Thursday after a weekly Syria humanitarian meeting.

United Nations Special Advisor for Syria Jan Egeland speaks during an interview with Reuters during the fifth round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, Switzerland, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

“I hope that this is a watershed moment,” Egeland told reporters in Geneva, two days after a suspected chemical weapons attack killed scores of civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

“With all of these world leaders saying again they have woken up to suffering of civilians that we see every day, I hope it is a re-birth of diplomacy, of humanitarian and political (efforts),” he said.

All participants at the U.N. meeting, which included regional and world powers but not Syria itself, had expressed outrage at the attack. But all of them needed to support efforts to bring the war to a peaceful end, he said.

“There are too many who are bringing fuel to this fire and too few who are pulling the parties to the negotiating table.”

He said the U.N. had called on the United States, Russia, Turkey and Iran to push for 72-hour humanitarian ceasefires and aid access for besieged and hard-to-reach areas, including the 400,000 people trapped in eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

“Everybody agrees, including the Russians, that the situation there is very dire and that a special arrangement, a special agreement is needed for eastern Ghouta. Nobody wants another eastern Aleppo to be happening on our watch. We should learn from the horrific inability to help civilians there.”

The U.N. wants the Syrian government to give the green light for aid convoys to supply 1 million civilians who are under siege or trapped in areas that are hard to reach with aid. It had approved only a third of the requests in full, and only conditionally approved another 40 percent, Egeland said.

The government was objecting to the U.N. estimates of civilian numbers, which Egeland said was a violation of an agreement on humanitarian aid struck at Vienna in May 2016.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview published on Thursday that he saw no “option except victory”.

Egeland said the battle was moving but it was not stopping.

“My answer back to him and to the opposition groups who also believe in a military solution is that after 6 years, one should have learned really that this will not have a military end, it will have a negotiated end. The violence will continue.”

Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Heneghan