Syrian opposition team head to Geneva as peace talks open
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[January 30, 2016]
AMMAN (Reuters) - A delegation from
Syria's main opposition group flew to Geneva on Saturday to assess
whether to join Damascus government officials in United Nations-brokered
peace talks, an opposition representative said.
The 17-strong team included the head of the Saudi-backed Higher
Negotiation Committee (HNC), which includes political and militant
opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's
five-year civil war.
The HNC has said it wants to discuss humanitarian issues including a
stop to Russian and Syrian government bombing before engaging in the
peace talks that started on Friday in Geneva.
Russian air strikes on Syria have killed nearly 1,400 civilians
since Moscow started its aerial campaign nearly four months ago, a
group monitoring the war said on Saturday.
"We are going to Geneva to put to the test the seriousness of the
international community in its promises to the Syrian people and to
also test the seriousness of the regime in implementing its
humanitarian obligations," Riyad Naasan Agha said.
"We want to show the world our seriousness in moving towards
negotiations to find a political solution," he told Reuters.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Saturday the Geneva
talks must ensure human rights are upheld as participants work
towards a political transition in Syria.
"Humanitarian law must be respected and the objective of a political
transition actively pursued to enable the talks to succeed," Fabius
said in a statement sent to Reuters.
The HNC's demands include allowing aid convoys into rebel-held
besieged areas where tens of thousands are living in dire
conditions, Agha said.
The medical charity Medecins Sans
Frontieres (MSF) said on Saturday that 16 people have starved to
death in the government-besieged town of Madaya since aid convoys
arrived this month and blamed the authorities for blocking medical
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Agha said the opposition delegation, including HNC head Riad Hijab
and chief negotiator Asaad al-Zoubi, would not call for a complete
cessation of hostilities but would demand an end to "the
indiscriminate shelling of markets, hospitals and schools by the
regime and its Russian backers".
Russia and Syria deny targeting civilians, saying they take great
care to avoid bombing residential areas.
In separate comments before heading to Geneva, Zoubi said they would
not engage in any negotiations before these goodwill measures were
He said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave assurances by phone
to the HNC's leadership, saying Washington supported a UN-backed
political transition period without Assad - a bone of contention
among warring parties.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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