Main Syrian opposition team head to Geneva as peace talks open

Riad Hijab, who heads the Syrian opposition council backed by Saudi Arabia.
Riad Hijab, who heads the Syrian opposition council backed by Saudi Arabia.PHOTO: REUTERS

AMMAN (REUTERS) - A delegation representing Syria's main opposition group were travelling to Geneva on Saturday (Jan 30) to assess whether to join Syrian government representatives in United Nations-brokered peace talks, an opposition representative said.

The 17-strong team included the head of the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), Riad Hijab, and negotiating team leader, Asaad al-Zoubi, Riyad Naasan Agha told Reuters.

The HNC, which includes political and militant opponents of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, said it wanted to discuss humanitarian issues before engaging in negotiations in peace talks that started on Friday to try to end a five-year-old 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," 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 are that bombing by Russia and the Syrian government stops and aid convoys are allowed into rebel-held besieged areas where tens of thousands are living in dire conditions, Agha said. "We are not calling for miracles nor a complete cessation of hostilities but the indiscriminate shelling of markets, hospitals and schools by the regime and its Russian backers," he said.

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