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G20 Leaders Must Set a Date for Peace Talks on Syria

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There is no doubt that the hot topic here in St Petersburg is the escalating crisis in Syria. But whether leaders are able to agree on a way forward is far less certain. It's fair to say that there is nervousness in the air that leaders will leave without anything new to offer to ordinary Syrians.

The humanitarian suffering in Syria is staggering. More than 100,000 lives have been lost already and the UN announced this week that the number of refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries has just reached two million. That's the equivalent of twice the population of the city of Birmingham having to leave their homes not knowing when they will be able to return. Oxfam staff are working with thousands of refugees in the region, with families who have been transported out of their daily lives into a new terrible reality. An end to the crisis is all they hope for.

During the summit, leaders of the 20 largest economies have a golden opportunity to work together and find a political solution to the crisis. Military intervention is not the answer, and risks making the lives of ordinary Syrian families worse and failing to stop the bloodshed. If the G20 is serious about giving these families a hopeful future, they should be focused on bringing all the parties in Syria to the table to find a peaceful solution. And don't just take Oxfam's word for this. Last week 265 Arab civil society organisations from 19 countries wrote to G20 leaders calling on them to back an immediate ceasefire and urgently get parties to attend a peace conference in Geneva. Setting a date for peace talks is the very least that the G20 should do in the face of such a shocking and unprecedented crisis.

So many humanitarian appeals have been made in my lifetime, and the fact that this is the UN's biggest appeal ever is hard for me to get my head around. With the number of people affected growing daily, it is critical that the appeal is fully funded. But so far it is not even half way there. G20 countries represent more than 80% of the global economy. If anyone can muster enough to meet the rapidly growing needs, they can.

As 20 of the world's most powerful leaders spend hours in intensive talks, there is no way that they can avoid the topic of Syria. Everyone is waiting to see whether there will be an official discussion on the agenda, or whether the biggest business of the day will be tackled through more informal corridor talks and bilateral meetings. We are all watching and waiting.

Extending the debate on military intervention is a dangerous delay, and risks derailing a more simple and obvious next step. Oxfam's call is simple. Less hot air and more elbow grease. Peace will not be easy, but it will remain beyond our reach until every effort is made to make peace talks work very soon.

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