Syria talks on constitutional issues begin

-Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Lolita Baldor in Washington.

"Our country must be governed by the consent of the people, under the rule of law and with every citizen free from fear of violence, by the state, by terrorists, by foreign armed forces", he continued.

"We are deeply anxious about the erosion of the emerging understanding of the need to combine efforts of all those who confront terrorists" such as the IS and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, Lavrov said.

The United States and Russian Federation - who back the rebels and Assad respectively - forged an worldwide consensus in December 2015 mandating de Mistura to push for a political solution.

Since March 2011, Syria has been gripped by militancy it blames on some Western states and their regional allies that have long pushed for the ouster of the Damascus government.

Refining of details of the problems taken up at the pan-Syrian talks should become the backbone element of the mechanism of consultations behind closed doors proposed by De Mistura.

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Al-Ja'afari said he hoped the agreement would "help in pushing this round forward" and insisted it had "nothing to do" with possible political transition sought by the opposition. Thursday's strike occurred inside an established "deconfliction zone" northwest of the At-Tanf garrison, where British and USA commandos have been training and advising local forces fighting the Islamic State group.

The United States has not spoken about any strikes carried out by the US-led coalition on that date.

Further to the north, IS militants on Thursday attacked several government-held villages in central Syria, capturing at least one and killing 52 people. The agency says women and children were among the dead, and that some were beheaded.

"The Syrian Arab Army is fighting terrorism on its territory, and no party has the right to determine the course of its operations".

According to the Observatory, IS attacked several government-held villages in the area on Thursday, capturing parts of them.

United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura had promised a refreshingly brisk pace of business-like meetings over a short four-day round, with new elections, a new constitution, reformed governance and counter-terrorism on the agenda.

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Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition said in a statement it sought clarification on 13 points including the mandate of the body and its frame of reference.

"We are not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war, but we will defend our troops", Mattis said.

Trying to focus on his efforts to secure a political transition, De Mistura said he had offered a novel proposal to the two delegations in which a group of experts, chaired by the United Nations, would establish a new process to write an new constitution for Syria.

Thursday's strike comes in the context of growing tension over which forces will take on IS in Syria's east. Aamaq claimed that 100 Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen were killed in the fighting. The process was not without a hitch, though, as the representatives of the of the Syrian Free Army, the largest opposition grouping, said on Thursday night they were suspending their participation in the talks.

One official said the pro-regime forces had entered a so-called "de-confliction" zone without authorization and were perceived as a threat to USA -allied troops there.

The villages are located near the town of Salamiyeh and the highway that links the capital, Damascus, to the northern city of Aleppo, but state media said traffic was not affected.

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