Syria opposition group lists terms for joining peace talks

AMMAN • A delegation from Syria's main opposition group flew to Geneva yesterday to assess whether to join Damascus government officials in United Nations-brokered peace talks, an opposition representative has said.

The 17-strong team included the head of the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), which includes political and militant opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's five-year civil war.

The HNC has said it wants to discuss humanitarian issues, including a stop to Russian and Syrian government bombing, before engaging in the peace talks that started last Friday in Geneva.

Russian air strikes on Syria have killed nearly 1,400 civilians since Moscow started its aerial campaign nearly four months ago, said a group monitoring the war.

"We are going to Geneva to put to the test the seriousness of the international community in its promises to the Syrian people and to also test the seriousness of the regime in implementing its humanitarian obligations," opposition representative Riyad Naasan Agha said.

"We want to show the world our seriousness in moving towards negotiations to find a political solution," he told Reuters.

The HNC's demands include allowing aid convoys into rebel-held besieged areas where tens of thousands are living in dire conditions, Mr Agha said.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said yesterday that 16 people have starved to death in the government-besieged town of Madaya since aid convoys arrived this month and blamed the authorities for blocking medical supplies shipments.

The opposition delegation, including HNC head Riad Hijab and chief negotiator Asaad al-Zoubi, would not call for a complete cessation of hostilities but would demand an end to "the indiscriminate shelling of markets, hospitals and schools by the regime and its Russian backers", according to Mr Agha.

Russia and Syria deny targeting civilians, saying they take great care to avoid bombing residential areas.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 31, 2016, with the headline 'Syria opposition group lists terms for joining peace talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe