A Saudi-backed Syrian opposition delegation met the UN's special envoy Staffan de Mistura for the first time on Sunday demanding efforts to improve humanitarian conditions on the ground or they would shun political negotiations.
"We only came to Geneva after receiving assurances and commitments and we have precise commitments on the fact there would be serious progress on the humanitarian situation," Bassma Kodmani, who is part of the opposition negotiating delegation, told a news conference.
“The humanitarian question is not negotiable,” Kodmani told FRANCE 24. “The fact that the regime uses this humanitarian situation as a weapon is completely unacceptable under international law and makes political negotiations impossible.”
Syria's war has killed more than 260,000 people since March 2011, while half of the country's population has fled their homes and millions have become refugees in neighbouring countries and beyond.
The delegation representing the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) is seeking a halt to attacks on civilian areas, the release of detainees and a lifting of blockades before agreeing to sit down for the so-called proximity talks.
On Sunday, the head of Syria’s delegation at peace talks in Geneva branded the opposition as terrorists backed by foreign powers, but said his government was considering humanitarian moves as demanded by the opposition delegation.
“We don’t deal with terrorists,” Bashar al-Jaafari told reporters in Geneva. “There are foreign powers endorsing foreign agendas, aiming at making political pressure on the Syrian government by using terrorism as a political weapon.”
Asked if the government was considering moves such as the creation of humanitarian corridors, ceasefires and prisoner releases, he said: “Absolutely, this is part of the agenda that we agreed upon and that will be one of the very important topics we will discuss among ourselves as Syrian citizens.”
Yet Salim al-Muslat, spokesman for the HNC, said that he believed there was little intention by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to make concessions.
"The regime did not come to find a solution, but buy more time to kill more Syrian people," he said.
Demands up the pressure on all sides
The measures demanded by the HNC were mentioned in a Security Council resolution approved last month that endorsed the peace process for Syria.
She said that since impetus for the talks had started, however, Syrian government forces and ally Russia seemed "deaf" to those demands, with military action increasing.
FRANCE 24’s John Zarocostas reported from Geneva that the opposition was upping the pressure on all parties.
“They [the HNC] are putting the pressure not only on the Assad regime in Damacus but on the 15 member states of the UN security council that adopted the resolution that calls for humanitarian access and a cessation of bombing civilian facilities,” Zarocostas reported. “So that’s a lot of pressure on Washington, Moscow, Paris and any other capital that co-signed it. They said they came to these talks because they had assurances and written agreements that the humanitarian leg would be dealt with up front.”
For his part, de Mistura said Sunday he was "optimistic and determined" following the informal meeting with the main opposition group, held after it had threatened to leave before planned peace talks begin in earnest.
"I am optimistic and determined because it's an historic occasion not to be missed," de Mistura told reporters as he left a Geneva hotel after an informal meeting with delegates from the High Negotiations Committee.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2016-01-31