Syrian Opposition Casts Doubt on Peace Talks After Russian Bombing

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Riad Hijab, who was chosen by Syrian opposition groups as coordinator of a negotiating body to lead peace talks, says it cannot negotiate with the Syrian government amid bombings. Hijab claims at least 35 schoolchildren had been killed in a recent Russian air strike. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

By John Irish

PARIS, Jan 11 – Syria’s opposition co-ordinator Riad Hijab accused Russia of killing dozens of children after a bombing raid on Monday and said such action meant the opposition could not negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Earlier the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 12 Syrian school children had been killed when suspected Russian warplanes hit a classroom in the rebel-held town of Injara in Aleppo province.

Hijab, speaking after talks with French President Francois Hollande in Paris, put the death toll at 35 children and said the Russian strikes had hit three schools in total.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow, which denies any targeting of civilians in the conflict.

“We want to negotiate, but to do that the conditions have to be there,” Hijab told reporters. “We cannot negotiate with the regime when there are foreign forces bombing the Syrian people.”

Hijab is a former prime minister under Assad who defected to the opposition in 2012. He was chosen in December as coordinator of the opposition negotiating body to lead future Syria talks.

Peace talks are scheduled to be held between the government and opposition on Jan. 25 under the auspices of the United Nations. However, opposition officials have already cast doubt on whether the talks will go ahead on schedule, citing a need to see goodwill measures from the government side.

“We do not want to go to negotiations that are condemned to failure before they start. We need to create the right climate,” Hijab said. “How could we negotiate when the Syrian people are dying? Each day there are massacres.”

He said the talks had to lead to a transitional government with the president and prime minister’s full executive powers.

“INADMISSIBLE ATTACKS”

Hijab said Russia was flaunting U.N. Security Council resolutions by bombing civilians and urged the world body to ensure Russia respected its humanitarian obligations.

He also dismissed Syrian government demands that it see a list of opposition members attending the possible talks, saying the opposition would not have choices imposed on them.

Earlier on Monday French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on Moscow and Damascus to stop “inadmissible” attacks against civilians.

Hollande and Fabius reiterated the Western view that Assad, who has strong backing from Moscow and Tehran, must relinquish power under any peace settlement.

“Bashar al-Assad has no role in the Syria of tomorrow,” Hollande said after his talks with Hijab.

Fabius said images from Madaya showing people suffering from starvation in the besieged rebel-held town underscored why the Syrian leader should step down. On Monday an aid convoy entered the town where thousands have been trapped.

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