syria government soldiers Palmyra .jpg
Photograph: EPA/SANA

Syria's rubber-stamp parliament convened on Monday for the first time since elections in April that were held only in government-controlled areas of the war-torn country and boycotted by opposition forces.

Members of the People's Assembly went one by one to the podium of the ornate wood-panelled chamber in central Damascus to take the oath of office.

The ruling Arab nationalist Baath Party holds a majority in the assembly, as it has in every Syrian parliament elected since President Bashar al-Assad's father Hazef al-Assad seized power in 1970.

Long-standing Baath activist Hadiya Abbas, an agricultural engineer from Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria, was elected unopposed as speaker of the parliament, becoming the first woman to hold the position.

The April elections were dismissed as a provocation by the Syrian opposition and its outside backers.

They were held on the same day that UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura was opening a round of peace negotiations with opposition representatives in Geneva.

The opposition later suspended participation in the talks saying there had been no progress on resolving humanitarian issues such as aid supplies to areas besieged by government forces.

Under an internationally backed formula for an end to Syria's conflict, free multi-party elections should be held after a transitional governing body oversees the drafting of a new constitution.

The Syrian conflict, which started in 2011 after al-Assad's forces launched a brutal crackdown against protests, has cost a quarter of a million lives and displaced half the country's population, according to UN estimates.

It has spiralled into a four-way civil war between government forces, mainly Islamist rebels, the Islamic State jihadist organization, and the Kurdish-led Democratic Forces of Syria.

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