Newspaper article International New York Times

Opposition in Syria Still Reluctant on Peace Talks ; Group Seeks Assurances That Sieges Will Be Lifted and Bombings Stopped

Newspaper article International New York Times

Opposition in Syria Still Reluctant on Peace Talks ; Group Seeks Assurances That Sieges Will Be Lifted and Bombings Stopped

Article excerpt

A spokesman for the main opposition bloc said it wanted assurances from the United Nations secretary general that the Syrian government would lift sieges of rebel-held towns.

The main Syrian opposition bloc said on Thursday -- the day before United Nations-brokered peace talks were to start in Geneva - - that it was still not sure if it would send a delegation, raising new doubts about whether the meetings could start.

A spokesman for the group said it was seeking an assurance from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the Syrian government would lift its sieges of rebel-held towns.

The statement was the latest in a series of maneuvers highlighting the bloc's reluctance to take part in talks while its fighters, and the civilians behind their lines, are under mounting pressure on the battlefield.

The bloc, known as the High Negotiations Committee, is backed by Saudi Arabia and includes a variety of opposition groups and dissident politicians. But it excludes some major combatants, like the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

The committee's hesitancy suggests that the modest expectations for the talks may have to be ratcheted even lower. The opposition's focus now is on getting the sieges lifted, so that it can show some concrete gain from the peace effort.

"We are willing to go, we are willing to participate, but at least these humanitarian issues should be solved," Salem al-Meslet, a spokesman for the bloc, said by telephone from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where the committee has been meeting.

The demand from the High Negotiations Committee is meant to put pressure on the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad through its ally Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

Diplomats said on Thursday that they expected the bloc to send a small group of leaders to Geneva, if only to meet with the United Nations mediator, Staffan de Mistura -- and of course, to broadcast their message to the journalists assembled here.

Mr. Meslet said his group would make a final decision only after hearing directly from Mr. Ban. "At least we want to hear a promise, something to encourage us," he said.

The United Nations has said that 18 towns -- with about 400,000 people -- are cut off from deliveries of food and medicine. …

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