Syrians flee their homes on the eastern front line of Raqqa. AFP / BULENT KILIC
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Syria's government and opposition negotiators could soon hold face-to-face talks for the first time, U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said Thursday, the penultimate day of a round of peace talks in Geneva. He did not expect the opposition High Negotiations Committee to unite with two other dissident groupings, the "Moscow" and "Cairo" platforms, in time for direct talks with Syria's government during this round. Some diplomats suspect the Moscow and Cairo platforms, which are much less opposed to President Bashar Assad than the HNC is, are little more than a mechanism created by Assad's ally Russia to prevent direct negotiations and force the HNC to dilute its stance.Malik said the number of people escaping has risen rapidly in recent weeks.Fighting since late last year has displaced more than 240,000 people in the wider Raqqa province, most of them only in the last few weeks, Malik said. An estimated 30,000-50,000 people remain trapped in the city with Daesh holding people there against their will, Malik said.
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