The Bashar al-Assad regime and Russia are still conducting raids and bomb attacks in many areas in Syria despite an ongoing cessation-of-hostilities agreement, the chief negotiator for the Syrian opposition said.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Mohamed Alloush spoke about the oppressive tactics of the Assad regime and the progress of ongoing talks in Geneva.
According to Alloush, members of his delegation had asked Staffan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy for the Syria crisis, to pass along to the Syrian regime its demand for the establishment of a transitional governing body and the writing of a new constitution to be followed by a de facto transition of power.
"The regime, however, presented us with an entirely different vision, prompting de Mistura to note the ‘wide gap’ between the two parties," Alloush said.
According to de Mistura, the current round of negotiations - slated to wrap up on March 24 - will be followed by a recess period of a week or ten days before another two-week round of talks kicks off.
Alloush also criticised the regime’s decision to send Foreign Ministry officers to the talks in Geneva, rather than senior security officers.
"That the regime sends Foreign Ministry personnel - who don’t have any authority to take decisions - suggests that it doesn’t want to find a solution; rather, it’s just buying time to restore the balance of power which was changed by the Russian intervention."
The chief negotiator said the last round of talks in Geneva "was hindered by a lack of humanitarian aid deliveries [in Syria] and stepped-up Russian bombardments [of opposition positions]."
"While Russian bombardments have stopped in some areas, they have continued in others," Alloush noted.
Earlier in March, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) documented in its report that thousands of air strikes and missiles by Russia killed at least 1,733 civilians in Syria since September 30.
"Those killed in the cities of Palmyra and Raqqa [by Russian airstrikes] are Syrian civilians, while DAESH’s headquarters haven’t been touched."
Western powers and Turkey have consistently criticised Moscow for targeting opposition forces and civilians rather than the DAESH terror group.
DAESH, declared a self-proclaimed caliphate in 2014 in Syria and Iraq with the Syrian city of Raqqa as its capital. The terrorist group has been active in the Syrian provinces of Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Deir Ezzor, Al-Raqqah, Al-Hasakah, Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
Alloush went on, "The Syrian people and various opposition factions - including the Free Syrian Army - have been able to expel DAESH [from certain areas], while the international coalition and Russia have only hurt civilians."
"What’s more, the regime uses hunger to subjugate the population," he said. "We therefore call on the international community to pressure Russia, because the reconciliation team is composed of Russian officers and because Russia plays a role in the zonal truces, which are based on the principle of reconciliation-for-food. This is a war crime, but the regime still does it."
On Friday the United Nations said that the Assad regime was still refusing aid and blocking medical care for those in need in six besieged towns despite a widespread cessation of hostilities deal that has lasted almost three weeks.
The US and Russian Federation came together to arrange the cessation of hostilities deal that began on February 27 which has helped to significantly curtail fighting.
The DAESH terrorist group and Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front have been excluded from the deal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week ordered his military to start the withdrawal of the main part of Russian forces from Syria, saying that the Russian military intervention had largely achieved its objectives. But Russia also pledged to continue its support for Syria in "combating terrorism."
Alloush went on to point out that the regime had continued to carry out acts of aggression in Syria despite the deal.
"On Saturday, for example, the regime carried out several raids in different areas - including Bala, Al-Marg, Harasta and Qantara in the countryside of Damascus - while continuing to drop barrel bombs in Deraa and in other areas," he said.
Rights groups differ in giving figures for those killed in the Syrian war but a report released by the Syrian Center for Policy Research on Feb. 11 puts the total death toll of Syrians during the five years of war at 470,000, with around 1.9 million Syrians having suffered injuries at some point during the war.