Syrian National Coalition and High Negotiations Committee have dismissed Russian-sponsored talks as an attempt to undermine UN-backed Geneva talks.

People hold Syrian opposition flags as a convoy of United Nations vehicles drive through the town of Saqba, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, October 30, 2017.
People hold Syrian opposition flags as a convoy of United Nations vehicles drive through the town of Saqba, in the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta, Syria, October 30, 2017. (Reuters)

The Syrian opposition to Bashar al Assad’s regime has rejected a Russian-sponsored congress of Syrian groups scheduled for November 18 in Sochi.

Russia, which intervened decisively in support of the Assad regime two years ago, has said the most important task of the proposed congress is to launch constitutional reform.

But on Wednesday, the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC) insisted any peace talks be held under UN sponsorship in Geneva, adding that the congress was an attempt to circumvent "the international desire for a political transition."

"The Coalition will not participate in any negotiations with the regime outside Geneva or without UN sponsorship," SNC spokesman Ahmad Ramadan told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Alloush, a member of the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) and a senior official with the Jaish al Islam rebel group, told Reuters that the opposition that the conference in Sochi will be “between the regime and the regime."

The HNC was surprised it had been mentioned in a list of groups invited to the congress and would "issue a statement with other parties setting out the general position rejecting this conference," Alloush said.

The congress proposal was one of the few notable outcomes from the seventh round of talks on Syria held in the Kazakh capital Astana, in which Turkey and Iran are also participants, and widely viewed as Moscow's attempt to stamp its own imprint on a settlement for Syria.

However, representatives of the Syrian opposition in Astana immediately cast doubt on the plan.

Yahya al Aridi, an advisor for the Syrian opposition, called the suggestion "a jump in the air to another place."

Aridi, speaking to reporters, also said the reason they objected to the idea was, "This is not a choice, and it's not an issue of whether we accept to attend or not. There are definite boundaries which are claimed to have been made in the presence of the UN. But, no one can even begin to guess who will be invited to attend. We are baffled and surprised about this."

The Astana talks that began in January have run parallel to negotiations taking place in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations.

Recent rounds of talks in the Central Asian nation have focused on ironing out the details of a Russia-led plan establishing four de-escalation zones in Syria.

The plan was first tabled in Astana in May to minimise fighting between regime forces and moderate rebel factions and improve civilians' access to aid.

But international organisations have warned that the zones are failing to curb a recent uptick in fighting that has seen the humanitarian situation in the country worsen significantly.

Turkey opposes YPG invitation

Turkey cannot accept the PKK-linked YPG militia being invited to Syria talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana, Turkey’s presidential spokesman said on Wednesday.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkish and Russian officials had discussed the issue and that he had held meetings of his own to "solve the problem on the spot."

Turkey considers the YPG to be the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has been waging an armed campaign in Turkey for over three decades.

The PKK is considered to be a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU.

Despite this, the US considers the YPG to be a key ally in Syria against Daesh. The group comprises a large bloc within the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria.

A senior official from YPG-controlled areas in northern Syria said on Tuesday that Russia had invited them to the congress in November.

It would mark the first time the YPG have been brought into peace talks. Although they now control at least a quarter of Syria, the YPG have so far been left out of international talks in line with Turkish wishes.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies