Syrian opposition not attending Geneva talks

Syrian opposition not to attend peace talks in Geneva, which is set to start on Friday, until their demands are met

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A general view shows damaged buildings in the town of Rabiya after forces loyal to Bashar al Assad recaptured the rebel-held town in coastal Latakia province.

Updated Jan 29, 2016

After days of meetings, the Syrian opposition said it will not attend peace talks due to begin in Geneva on Friday, derailing the first attempt in two years to hold negotiations aimed at ending the five-year-long war.

"For certain we will not head to Geneva and there will not be a delegation from the High Negotiations Committee tomorrow in Geneva," George Sabra told Arabic news channel Arabiya al-Hadath on Thursday.

The head of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Riad Hijab said his group would not attend the UN-brokered peace talks until an agreement was reached on aid entering besieged towns.

"The opposition is prepared to go to Geneva if these measures are taken," Hijab, told Al-Arabiya on the eve of the planned talks.

A senior delegate of the recently formed HNC told Agency France Press that members had failed to make a decision, but would meet again on Friday.

Another opposition representative said the delegation might turn up if their demands were met in a day or two, but the chances of that appeared vanishingly slim.

"Tomorrow will probably be the start with those who attend but it has no value," Monzer Makhous told Al-Hadath.

Backed by Russia and Iran, Syrian regime leader, has already said it will attend.

The HNC has repeatedly said that the regime and its allies must stop bombardments and lift blockades of besieged areas before they will go to any talks.

The turn of events is a bitter blow to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, whose office had issued a video message that he had sent to the Syrian people, in which he said the talks were expected to happen "in the next few days".

"You must know also that we count on you to raise your voice to say 'khalas' ("stop" in Arabic)... to say to everyone who is actually coming from Syria and from abroad to this conference that there are expectations on them to make sure that their vision, their capacity of compromise in discussion for reaching a peaceful solution in Syria is now and they need to produce that," he said.

A spokeswoman for his office, speaking before the opposition statement, said the talks would begin on Friday as scheduled.

The talks were meant to start in Geneva on Monday but the United Nations has pushed them back to Friday to allow more time to resolve problems including a dispute over which groups should be invited to negotiate with the government.

The planned negotiations are part of a UN-backed plan, agreed in November in Vienna, that envisages talks followed by a transitional government, a new constitution, and elections within 18 months.

TRTWorld and agencies