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Syria opposition meets as clock ticks down on UN talks

Syrian Opposition Members Met For A Third Day Today To Decide Whether To Attend UN Peace Talks, With Less Than 24 Hours Before The Negotiations Were Due To Begin In Geneva.

PTI | Updated on: 28 Jan 2016, 10:26:25 PM


Syrian opposition members met for a third day today to decide whether to attend UN peace talks, with less than 24 hours before the negotiations were due to begin in Geneva.

Opposition sources said it appeared increasingly unlikely the talks would open in the Swiss city tomorrow as planned.

The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee - formed last month in an effort to unite Syria’s fractious opposition - said it was waiting for answers from the United Nations before agreeing to attend the talks.

Western diplomats have piled pressure on the opposition to participate in the negotiations, part of the biggest push yet to resolve Syria’s nearly five-year civil war.

But after two days of meeting in the Saudi capital the Committee, which was formed to lead negotiations and insists it alone must represent the opposition, had yet to agree to participate.

The Committee has asked for “clarifications” after the UN issued invitations to other opposition figures and wants assurances from the international community that it will move to end regime attacks on civilians and allow humanitarian aid.

Salem al-Meslet, a Committee spokesman, said it was waiting for an answer from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the application of a Security Council resolution adopted in December that endorsed a roadmap for peace.

He said UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura had already assured the opposition that two of the resolution’s articles - calling for immediate access for humanitarian aid and an end to attacks on civilians - were non-negotiable.

Security Council members “must take their responsibilities and commit to applying resolution 2254. We are waiting for an answer,” Meslet said.

“We are serious about participating in the negotiations.  The ones who are hindering the start (of talks) are those who are bombing and starving civilians.”

France-based Middle East analyst Agnes Levallois said the opposition was growing increasingly frustrated that the question of President Bashar al-Assad’s fate was being put off. “Assad is feeling stronger and stronger so is being inflexible. He wants to be sure there are no longer talks on his future so is putting forward the humanitarian issue,” she said.

Haytham Manna, a longstanding opposition figure who is co-chair of the political wing of a Kurdish-Arab alliance, told AFP in Geneva he did not expect talks to begin until Monday. “There are a lot of issues that were not resolved,” he said, pointing to the dispute over invitations to the opposition.

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First Published : 28 Jan 2016, 10:23:00 PM