Syria’s Opposition to Meet Tuesday, Blames Russia for “Obstacles”

Syrian opposition announced plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss U.N.-led efforts to convene delayed peace talks. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

BEIRUT, Jan 25 – Syria’s opposition will meet on Tuesday to discuss U.N.-led efforts to convene delayed peace talks, an opposition spokesman said, repeating a call for goodwill steps from the government including a halt to bombardments before any talks happen.

The United Nations is trying to convene the first talks in two years to end Syria’s nearly 5-year-old civil war, but the effort so far has been held up in part by disagreement over who should be invited to attend to represent the opposition.

Syria’s civil war has killed 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes. It has drawn in most world powers, with the United States leading an air campaign against Islamic State fighters that control eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Russia, which entered the war last year with a separate air campaign against opponents of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, says it wants opposition figures it calls terrorists barred from talks, and wants to include groups like the Kurds who control wide parts of northern Syria.

The main Sunni Arab opposition groups, who are supported by regional Arab governments, say they will not attend the talks unless they can choose their delegation.

Salim al-Muslat, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiation Committee (HNC), accused Russia and the Syrian government of throwing obstacles in the path of talks that were originally due to begin in Geneva on Monday.

The HNC, formed in Saudi Arabia last month and grouping armed and political opponents of Assad, has repeatedly said talks cannot begin until air strikes are halted, government sieges of rebel held territory are lifted and detainees freed, steps outlined in a Dec. 18 U.N. Security Council resolution.

“We want to realise pure humanitarian matters. They are not preconditions. It is an international resolution at least part of which must be implemented, so we see there is seriousness and good will in this matter,” al-Muslat said on Saudi-owned Arabic news channel Arabiya al-Hadath.

“Unfortunately, it is not possible to sit and talk to anyone without the suffering being lifted first.”

The lead negotiator appointed by the HNC told Reuters on Sunday said the opposition was coming under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to attend the talks before these demands were met.

Muslat however said on Monday the talks with Kerry had been “positive” and that the opposition was “sticking by certain principles, not putting up obstacles.”

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