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The Latest: UN calls for aid convoys ahead of Syria talks

  • U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. The U.N. envoy said negotiating a political transition for the war-torn country will be the sole item on the agenda for upcoming talks between the government and opposition in Geneva. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

    U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura talks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. The U.N. envoy said negotiating a political transition for the war-torn country will be the sole item on the agenda for upcoming talks between the government and opposition in Geneva. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)  (The Associated Press)

  • U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, enter a hall for talks in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

    U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, enter a hall for talks in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)  (The Associated Press)

The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

3 p.m.

A top U.N. humanitarian aid official is calling for aid convoys to be allowed into besieged and hard-to-reach areas of Syria to demonstrate "goodwill" before government and opposition envoys gather for talks in Geneva next week.

Jan Egeland, of the U.N. Syria envoy's office, lamented that not a single U.N.-arranged land convoy has reached any of more than a dozen besieged towns or villages this year, citing a lack of approvals from authorities.

He said convoys were lining up Thursday in hopes of delivering aid to the opposition-held enclave of al-Waer in Homs, Syria's third-largest city.

The appeal came as the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was meeting with top Russian officials in Moscow in the run-up to the anticipated Feb. 23 start of Syrian peace talks in Geneva.

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2:45 p.m.

Syrian government officials have sat face-to-face with Syrian rebels for the second time in three weeks in Astana, Kazakhstan, as diplomats step up their efforts to reconcile the two sides ahead of U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva.

Thursday's meeting is aimed at shoring up a cease-fire before the government meets with the exiled opposition as well as representatives of armed groups in Geneva on Feb. 23, for talks aimed at reaching a broader political settlement.

Rebels and pro-government forces are meanwhile clashing in the Daraa governorate in southern Syria. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an al-Qaida-linked faction attacked government forces Sunday, shattering an extended spell of calm in the contested region.

There have been repeated violations of the cease-fire since it went into effect on Dec. 30.