Syria’s main opposition threatens to quit peace talks



Syria’s main opposition body threatened on Saturday to quit UN-mediated peace talks before they even get going as the rising death toll from starvation highlighted the dire humanitarian situation in the country, AFP reports.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) begrudgingly bowed only late Friday to American and Saudi pressure to at least show up in Geneva to test the waters for joining the biggest push yet to end a five-year-old civil war.

But the body insisted it will not engage in formal negotiations, even indirectly, with President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime until UN Security Council resolutions requiring an end to sieges of towns are adhered to.

“If the regime insists on continuing to commit these crimes then the HNC delegation’s presence in Geneva will not be justified,” HNC coordinator Riad Hijab warned in a statement in Arabic posted online and quoted by AFP.

“The delegation will inform (UN special envoy Staffan) de Mistura of its intentions to withdraw its negotiating team if the UN and world powers are unable to stop these violations,” said Hijab, who was not among those present in Geneva.

“We are keen to negotiate success. We are ready to start negotiating but at least we should see something,” Salem al-Meslet, a spokesman for the group, said after arriving in Geneva.

Highlighting the alarming humanitarian situation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Saturday said 16 more people had starved to death in Madaya, one of more than a dozen towns blockaded either by regime or rebel forces.

More than 4.5 million people with immense humanitarian needs are living in areas extremely hard to access because of fighting, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights monitoring group reported Saturday that “10 civilians, among them three children and four women, were killed Saturday by suspected Russian air strikes against an ISIS-controlled village in the eastern Deir Ezzor province”.

A source close to the HNC said the grouping was sending 17 negotiators and 25 others to Geneva, and was expected to meet de Mistura on Sunday. A 16-member government delegation arrived on Friday.

Backed by external powers embroiled in Syria’s war, the talks are seeking to end a conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people and fuelled the meteoric rise of the extremist Islamic State (ISIS) group.

Millions of those fleeing the conflict have sought refuge in neighboring countries and hundreds of thousands of Syrians have risked their lives to reach Europe.

The future of Assad, emboldened by recent territorial gains against rebels thanks to Russian support, in any peace deal remains uncertain.

For now, no face-to-face talks between the opposition and the regime are expected. Instead “proximity talks” are envisioned whereby de Mistura will shuttle between participants.

In a controversial move, the alliance has named Mohammed Alloush, member of the Army of Islam rebel group, as its chief negotiator, but sources hinted he was not among those travelling to Geneva.

Excluded meanwhile, in the initial stages of the talks at least, are Kurdish representatives, with Saudi Arabia and in particular Turkey vehemently opposed to their participation.

The talks had already been delayed from their scheduled start this past Monday over disagreements on who will represent the opposition.

Assad’s regime has designated its UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari as its chief negotiator.

AFP contributed to this report.


Leave a Reply