News in Brief 01 February 2016 (PM)

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Staffan de Mistura. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

“Complicated and difficult” Syria peace talks expected

Peace talks to resolve the five-year-long civil war in Syria are expected to be “complicated and difficult."

That's the view of the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, at the beginning of talks in Geneva between Syria's warring parties.

More than 250,000 people have been killed in the hostilities and millions have fled as refugees.

Here's Mr de Mistura.

"The Intra-Syrian talks are going to be different, and need to be different, from the previous ones. One, because we are in 2016; two, because the people have been suffering enough, and three, they need to see something concrete apart from a long, painful, difficult negotiation."

Salem al-Meslet, the spokesperson for the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), listed the Committee's priorities.

"Lifting the siege and freeing, especially, women and children; this for us is important and also stopping these attacks by Russian jet fighters and by the regime's fighters."

12,500 people besieged in two Syria villages

An estimated 12,500 people are besieged in the villages of Foah and Kafraya, in Syria’s Idleb Governorate, according to the UN humanitarian office, OCHA.

The siege is occurring against a backdrop of five years of civil war in Syria

Relief supplies have been delivered to the villages on three occasions in January, but the humanitarian situation is said to be deteriorating.

Here's Stéphane Dujarric, the UN Spokesperson.

"Humanitarian agencies said there are increasing reports of acute shortages of food, basic commodities, medical items and fuel in the enclave. Local sources report that up to 70 per cent of the farmland is now inaccessible due to sniper activity. Prices of food and other basic staples have increased sharply."

The only hospital in the enclave reportedly stopped operating due to lack of medical supplies, diesel and electricity cuts.

Sharp increase in January in Iraqi deaths

A total of 849 Iraqis were killed and another 1,450 were injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict in Iraq in January 2016, a sharp increase over the previous month.

The casualty figures released by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) show that 490 civilians were amongst the dead.

Baghdad Governorate was the worst affected, with over 1,000 civilian casualties, including almost 300 dead.

The terrorist group ISIL continues to control large areas of the country, although the authorities retain control of the capital, Baghdad.

UN Refugee Agency calls for nominations of "unsung heroes" award

Nominations are being sought by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for an award which celebrates what it calls "unsung heroes" working in humanitarian aid.

The Nansen Refugee Award comes with a US$100,000 prize and recognises "courageous people who have contributed directly to the refugee cause."

The award was established in 1954 and is named after Fridtjof Nansen, who served as the first-ever High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nominations close on 8 February.

Daniel Dickinson, United Nations.

Duration: 3’20″

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