Syrian opposition determined to make peace talks work

Spokesman for Syrian opposition delegation says they are ‘keen to make peace talks a success’ and test Syrian regime’s intention to implement resolutions adopted by UN

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Salim al Muslat, spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the main Syrian opposition group at the Geneva peace talks, attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, January 31, 2016.

A spokesman for the Syrian opposition delegation High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Salim al Muslat stated on Sunday that they want to make peace talks aimed to end Syria's five-year-old war.

"We are keen to make this negotiation a success. But we should ask the other side. The other side is pretending to represent the Syrian people. In fact, he is killing the Syrian people," Muslat told a scrum of reporters, as the delegation arrived at their hotel in Geneva to attend peace negotiations.

Al Muslat stated that the Syrian Regime must free women and children from jails and allow aid to enter besieged areas, but added that there were no preconditions for talks. 

After an informal meeting with delegation from the HNC, The UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also said that he is "optimistic and determined" following an informal meeting with the main opposition group, which had threatened to leave before planned peace talks begin in earnest.

"I am optimistic and determined because it's an historic occasion not be missed," de Mistura told reporters on Sunday.

Highlighting the dire humanitarian situation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Saturday said 16 more people had starved to death in Madaya, one of more than a dozen towns under blockade by regime or rebel forces.

More than 4.5 million people with "immense humanitarian needs" are living in areas extremely hard to access because of fighting, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On Friday, the scheduled start of a planned six months of talks, protesters in Geneva highlighted the plight of ordinary Syrians with "siege soup" of grass and leaves.

260,000 dead, and counting

According to figures obtained by the UN, the ogoing civil war in Syria has killed more than 260,000 people since 2011 and has turned the country into the world's single-largest source of displaced people and refugees.

Half of Syria's population have fled their homes, forcing millions to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and also in Europe, where the influx is proving to be a major political and social headache.

On Saturday, dozens of refugee men, women and children, including Syrians, drowned when their boat sank off of Turkey -adding to the almost 4,000 who perished trying to reach Europe by sea in 2015.


The intra-Syrian negotiations, if they get going, are part of an ambitious roadmap set out in November in Vienna by all the external powers involved.

The process envisions elections within 18 months but leaves unresolved the future of Assad, whose regime has been making gains on the ground since Russia began supporting him with airstrikes in September.

Another issue is which rebel groups will be involved in the talks, although all sides agree on the exclusion of DAESH and the Nusra Front.

Ahrar al Sham, one of the most controversial groups in the HNC because of its ties to Nusra, was not represented in Geneva, HNC spokesman Riad Naasan Agha said.

And the powerful Army al Islam rebel group "is here, they are a negotiator," he told reporters, but said HNC chief negotiator and Army of Islam member Mohammed Alloush had not arrived yet. 

"There is every reason to be pessimistic, and there is no realistic scenario in which a breakthrough would be reached," said Karim Bitar, analyst at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations.