The Saudi-backed Syrian Opposition ruled out even indirect negotiations with Damascus before steps including a halt to Russian airstrikes, contradicting US secretary of state John Kerry’s insistence t
The Saudi-backed Syrian Opposition ruled out even indirect negotiations with Damascus before steps including a halt to Russian airstrikes, contradicting US secretary of state John Kerry’s insistence that talks will begin next week.
Peace efforts face huge underlying challenges, among them disagreements over President Bashar al-Assad’s future and tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Russia on Friday denied a report that President Vladimir Putin had asked Mr Assad to step down in 2015.
The Syrian government has said it is ready to take part in the Geneva talks on time. The office of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said he was still aiming “at rolling out the talks” on January 25, and would be “assessing progress over the weekend”.
George Sabra, a senior Opposition official, said the obstacles to the talks were still there, reiterating demands for the lifting of blockades on populated areas and the release of detainees, measures set out in a December 18 Security Council resolution that endorsed the peace process.
“There must be a halt to the bombardment of civilians by Russian planes, and sieges of blockaded areas must be lifted,” said Mr Sabra, who was this week named as a senior member of the Opposition delegation to any talks. “The form of the talks does not concern us, but the conditions must be appropriate for the negotiations,” he said.
Mr Sabra’s Opposition council, the High Negotiations Committee, was formed in Saudi Arabia in December. It groups Mr Assad’s political and armed opponents, including rebel factions fighting Damascus in western Syria.
The West is the main theatre of the war between rebels and Damascus, whose military position has been bolstered since September by Russian warplanes and Iranian ground forces.
Russian warplanes continued to bomb many parts of Syria on Friday, particularly Latakia province, where the government is pressing an offensive against rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.