The resolution acknowledges that the peace process will not end the conflict because it bars 'terrorist groups' operating in the country, including the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, from participating in a cease-fire.

Foreign ministers from 17 countries met on and off for more than five hours to overcome divisions on the text.

The resolution has been described as a rare gesture of unity on the Syria peace process by a council often deeply divided on the crisis.

The draft resolution approved yesterday, obtained by The Associated Press, requests that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convene representatives of the Syrian government and opposition "to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks."

Within six months, the process should establish 'credible,inclusive and non-sectarian governance," with UN-supervised "free and fair elections' to be held within 18 months.

The draft notes that the cease-fire "will not apply to offensive or defensive actions" against groups considered terrorist organisations, meaning that airstrikes by Russia, France and the US-led coalition apparently would not be affected.

Meanwhile yesterday, some 20 foreign ministers tackled those and other difficult issues for a possible end to Syria's civil war, including sorting out which Syrian groups will represent the opposition in peace talks in the new year.

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