UN representative Jan Egeland said Syria’s government has withdrawn a rather controversial law that allowed state’s authorities to seize property left by refugees. He called it a good sign that “diplomacy can win even in Syria.” he said.

Egeland also said Assad’s government has agreed to allow convoys of aid to enter the desolate Rukban area near Syria’s border with Jordan. He said the U.N. and its partners haven’t gotten access since January to the area, where up to 50,000 civilians have been stuck for months, calling it one of Syria’s most “desperate places.”

Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, but whose day job is leading the Norwegian Refugee Council, also confirmed he will leave the U.N. post in November. He spoke a day after de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council that he himself is leaving for “personal” reasons.

Speaking after a U.N. “humanitarian task force” meeting in Geneva, Egeland said Russia reiterated assurances it had made earlier regarding Syria’s so-called “Law 10” having been withdrawn.

Under the law, residents originally had just 30 days to prove that they owned property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise the ownership would be transferred to the local government. The period for providing proof of ownership was later extended to a year.

The law has been seen as a major impediment to the possible return of millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes in Syria’s 7-year-old war. Syrian officials have insisted the law will not result in the confiscation of property, but is aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat alleged forgery of documents in rebel-held areas.

It was not clear whether Assad’s government might later revive the legislation or enact it in other ways.

“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes done … it is some good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win even in Syria.”

Syrian legislator Mohammad Kheir Akkam told the Associated Press Thursday that the law was issued by presidential decree and there has been no decree to abolish it.

There was no immediate reaction or confirmation from either Russia or the Syrian government.

Overall, Egeland cited a number of recent “positive” developments in Syria. He hailed the news that airstrikes over the northwestern region of Idlib the last major rebel stronghold in Syria have stopped for the last five weeks, in part due to Russian efforts, and added that Russia and Turkey plan to give more time for the implementation of their de-escalation deal in Idlib. He expressed concern, however, that Western nations are still refusing to contribute to reconstruction in Syria.

Separately, Putin said Thursday that Daesh (ISIS) militants had seized nearly 700 hostages in part of Syria controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and had executed some of them and promised to kill more.

He said the hostages included several U.S. and European nationals, adding that Daesh was expanding its control in territory on the left bank of the Euphrates River controlled by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces.

Putin did not specify what the militants’ demands were.

“They have issued ultimatums, specific demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met they will execute 10 people every day.

“The day before yesterday they executed 10 people,” Putin said.



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