Damascus ready to attend talks; opposition remains undecided

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Middle East
Tuesday, 08 March 2016

Syria has announced its readiness to attend the peace talks slated to resume next week, while the Saudi-backed opposition is still undecided whether to partake in the sessions.

A source close to the Damascus negotiating team said the Syrian delegates are set to participate in the negotiations that will resume in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 14, AFP reported.

However, Riyad Farid Hijab, the head of the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC), continued to send mixed signals on the Riyadh-based opposition’s participation and said it “will assess the situation in the coming days and we will take the appropriate decision.”

His statements appeared to be a step back from earlier comments by HNC spokesman Riad Naasan Agha, who had said the opposition delegation would arrive in Geneva on Friday to take part in the talks.

Make-or-break talks

The latest round of such negotiations collapsed in Geneva in early February after the HNC refrained from attending the sessions amid the Russian-backed Syrian army gains on the battle ground against Takfiri militants.

A ceasefire agreement, brokered by Russia and the United States, entered into force in Syria late last month. The truce has been largely holding, resulting in a dramatic drop in civilian casualties from the foreign-backed conflict which has reportedly claimed some 470,000 lives since 2011.

Observers have, accordingly, rated the upcoming talks as an unequalled chance for cessation of hostilities in the country.

The HNC has, however, insisted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should not be offered any role in the country’s political future, complicating the matters at hand.

Hijab likewise said the issue of a “transitional governing body with no role for Assad” would top the HNC’s agenda if it decides to participate.

He also said the opposition cannot accept Assad’s participation in future elections.

He further accused Syrian and Russian aircraft of being behind a deadly airstrike in the western Syria Idlib province in breach of the truce.

The Syrian government has vowed commitment to the ceasefire and is yet to comment on the allegations.

Takfiri inroads

Meanwhile, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front and allied terrorists had captured the village of al-Ais, the al-Ais hilltop and at least another mountainous area south of the city of Aleppo.

The truce does not apply to the group and fellow Takfiri terrorist outfit Daesh.

Aleppo is the second Syrian city in a province bordering Turkey, which has served as a major gateway for transit of new militant recruits and weapons.

In the weeks preceding the implementation of the truce, a combination of Syrian military prowess and Russian airpower brought major militant groups on the verge of total collapse in the strategic province.

The gains coincided with a decline in arms supplies to militant groups by their Western and regional backers. Observers said at the time that the move had generated a feeling of betrayal among the militants, noting it might encourage some to join the ranks of Takfiri groups such as the al-Nusra Front and Daesh.

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