Syria’s opposition rules out negotiations till Russian air strikes halt

George Sabra

In another hurdle for the Syrian peace process, the opposition has ruled out any negotiations with Damascus, even indirect negotiations, till Russian air strikes halt. This fresh precondition has cast doubts over the Geneva talks, which are scheduled to begin on January 25.  The key contentious issue is again on the issue of who will represent the Syrian opposition.

 “There must be a halt to the bombardment of civilians by Russian planes, and sieges of blockaded areas must be lifted,” said George Sabra who has been named as a senior member of the opposition delegation to any talks. “The form of the talks does not concern us, but the conditions must be appropriate for the negotiations,” he said.

As the Syrian war shows no signs of ending, the peace talks in Geneva looks increasingly uncertain. One of the key reasons for the likely delay in talks is a dispute over the composition of the opposition delegation. The peace efforts face a slew of hurdles, including major disagreements over President Bashar al-Assad’s future and tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

However, Russia has denied reports that President Vladimir Putin had asked Assad to step down in 2015. The Syrian government has confirmed its participation in the Geneva talks. According to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s office, he was still aiming “at rolling out the talks” on January 25.  Mr Mistura would be assessing the progress over the weekend.

Blaming the opposition, Russia has said the talks could be delayed until January 27 or 28 because of the disagreement over who would represent the opposition. Mr Sabra said the obstacles to the talks were still there and reiterated the demand for lifting of blockades on populated areas and the release of detainees. These were some of the major steps set out in a December 18 Security Council resolution that endorsed the peace process.

Sabra’s opposition council, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), was formed in Saudi Arabia in December 2015. The group is backed by Saudi Arabia. It supports Assad’s political and armed opponents, including rebel factions fighting Damascus in western Syria.
(Sridhar Ramaswamy contributed inputs for this article)

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