Syria opposition threatens withdrawal from Geneva talks

withdSyria’s main opposition bloc has threatened to withdraw from talks held in Geneva, if what they called the “crimes” of Bashar al-Assad’s government persisted.

Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC) representatives landed in Geneva late on Saturday, a day after a delegation for Assad’s government arrived and held preliminary talks with UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Speaking at his hotel in Geneva late on Saturday, HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet said: “We want the peace talks to work, but there is no seriousness on the part of the regime.”

Meslet added that the HNC would discuss its demands with de Mistura on Sunday, including lifting the siege on opposition-held areas, stopping the shelling and releasing detainees.

“The priority is to lift the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. ”If we see an implementation of these demands, including allowing trucks of aid into besieged areas, we will consider this as a sign of good will”.

HNC coordinator Riad Hijab, who was not among those present in Geneva, warned in a statement in Arabic posted online that ”if the regime insists on continuing to commit these crimes then the HNC delegation’s presence in Geneva will not be justified”.

“The delegation will inform de Mistura of its intentions to withdraw its negotiating team if the UN and world powers are unable to stop these violations,” Hijab wrote.
Monzer Makhous, a member of the Syrian opposition delegation, said: “We are here to test the intentions of the regime… We do not have assurances, we have promises”.

The intra-Syrian negotiations, if they get going, are part of a peace plan set out in November in Vienna by external powers embroiled in the five-year-old conflict, some on different sides.

The process envisions elections within 18 months but leaves unresolved the future of Assad, whose government has been making gains on the ground since Russia began supporting him with air strikes in September.

Another thorny issue is which rebel groups will be involved in the talks, although all sides agree on the exclusion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and the al-Nusra Front tied to al-Qaeda.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted by Russian Interfax news agency as saying that no direct talks were expected in Geneva, only proxy talks.

Gatilov said there were no preconditions for the negotiations.

The talks are the first since two rounds of negotiations collapsed in 2014. Syria’s conflict has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced millions and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing as refugees to Europe.

Meanwhile, there was no let-up in the fighting in Syria. On Saturday, at least 15 people were killed and dozens more injured in suspected Russian air strikes targeting rebel positions near the northern city of Aleppo.

In Syria’s west, opposition fighters said they had taken control of several checkpoints around the city of Hama, which lies in a region where control is divided between government and opposition fighters.

Further south, residents of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya continued to die of starvation and a lack of medical supplies, despite the delivery of aid earlier this month, according to Doctors without Borders (MSF).

MSF said on Saturday that at least 16 people – close to one person per day – have died since three aid convoys entered the town, near the Lebanese border 40km northwest of Damascus, on January 11.

The group said that an estimated 320 people in Madaya are suffering from malnutrition, 33 of whom are “are in danger of death if they do not receive prompt and effective treatment”.

Source: Al Jazeera And Agencies