A man walks past the wreckage of a car as others inspect the damage at a site hit by what activists said was an air strike by Syrian regime forces in Raqa yesterday.

AFP/Damascus

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will begin his first visit to Damascus today to try to kick-start peace talks that have twice foundered under the United Nations. 

De Mistura will travel with deputy envoy Ramzy Ezzedine Ramzy for the first round of meetings with Syrian officials since taking up the mission this month, a UN statement said.

The Syrian Al Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, reported that the envoys will hold three days of talks on “prospects for a solution” to the conflict that has raged since March 2011.

While in Damascus, de Mistura will also meet representatives of opposition groups tolerated by the regime, Al Watan said.  

It was not known whether a meeting with Assad was planned.

After the first visit to Syria, the envoy will travel in the region to speak with key players and to other capitals in October, said the UN statement.

Details of his travel plans were not released but it was expected that he would travel to Russia, Assad’s key ally. 

The head of the tolerated National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change, Hassan Abdel Azim, said he planned to meet the UN envoy at a Damascus hotel on Thursday.

He said the delegation would call on de Mistura to organise “new negotiations in Geneva” between government and opposition representatives to achieve a “quick political solution”.

But it is unclear whether there is broad political will for a fresh round of peace talks after two rounds of negotiations ended in failure earlier this year.

De Mistura’s predecessor, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, resigned in May after the failure of the talks in Switzerland in January and February.

He had spent two years in the position, which he assumed after former UN secretary general Kofi Annan stepped down following a six-month stint in the role.

A former Italian deputy foreign minister, who has served previously in Iraq and Afghanistan, de Mistura was appointed to the Syria job in July.

De Mistura was due to arrive in the Lebanese capital yesterday and travel to Damascus by road today, European diplomats in Beirut said.

Syria had in July welcomed de Mistura’s appointment and stressed that he should demonstrate “objectivity and integrity” in pursuing his peace mission.