Syrian opposition says it will attend Geneva peace talks

Syrian opposition umbrella organisation High Negotiations Committee relases official statement saying it will attend Geneva peace talks on Monday

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Riad Hijab, chief coordinator of the main Syrian opposition umbrella organisation, attends a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 14, 2016.

The main Syrian opposition umbrella organisation said on Friday that it will attend peace talks due to start in Geneva next week, but downplayed the chances of reaching an agreement with the Syrian regime.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC)’s statement said it would focus on the establishment of an interim governing body with full executive powers and would insist on Syria's territorial integrity.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura announced on Friday in an interview with a Russian news agency that the country will have a presidential election in 18 months, according to a planned transitional process. 

HNC coordinator Riad Hijab said it was "concerned with representing the just cause of the Syrian people...and investing in all available chances to alleviate the Syrian people's suffering."

"We know that they [the Syrian regime] are committing crimes, and that they are preparing an air and ground escalation in the coming period," he said without elaborating, adding that the regime was trying to thwart the political process. 

"Our inclination is to go," Riad Nassan Agha - a member of the HNC - said previously, adding that violations of a cessation of hostilities agreement on the part of the Syrian regime and its allies had been reduced in recent days.

"We started to notice that the volume of violations has started to reduce in the last two days. We hope that in the coming days until Friday that the violations reach zero," he said on Monday, adding that "If these violations end, this will create the favourable environment for the start of negotiations."

However, prominent Syrian dissident Haytham Manna said later on the same day that he would not attend peace talks that are to start next week in Geneva, saying that he had been invited but saw little chance for their success.

"Nothing has changed ... it's not serious," said Manna, who is not part of the main Saudi-backed opposition. 

"I don't like failure... I don't want to participate in a failing project," he added.

Manna is the co-leader of the Syrian Democratic Council. One of its components, the PYD, is considered by Turkey to be the Syrian-affiliate of PKK terrorist group. 

Manna had boycotted the last round of talks saying he would not take part unless two Kurdish leaders were also invited. 

The renewed peace talks coincide with the fifth anniversary of the conflict that began with protests against Bashar al Assad before devolving into a multi-sided civil war that has drawn in foreign governments and allowed the growth of DAESH terrorism in Syria and Iraq.

The war-torn country has currently been experimenting with a fragile cessation of hostilities deal since Feb. 27 after the major agreement was brokered by the US and Russia.

Fighting in Syria has slowed considerably since the cessation of hostilities agreement came into force, but an actual peace deal and proper ceasefire still remain elusive.

The United Nations hopes the agreement, which is less binding than a formal ceasefire and was not directly signed by the warring sides in Syria, can precede a more formal ceasefire.

Nearly 470,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war in the country started five years ago between the Assad regime and opposition forces following the Arab Spring movement that swept a number of countries in the Middle-East and North Africa.

During the brutal conflict nearly 8 million people have been displaced inside Syria while at least 5 million have fled to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

TRTWorld, Reuters