Syrian opposition to attend peace talks, some glimmers of hope for UN

The second round of UN-sponsored indirect talks between the government and opposition is set to begin on Monday in Geneva. The main opposition group confirmed its participation without preconditions “to stop the spilling of Syrian blood and find a political solution". Humanitarian agencies and UN officials show cautious optimism.


Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The main Syrian opposition bloc announced that it would attend the next round of peace talks scheduled to take place in Geneva between 14 and 24 March. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said that it was not putting any preconditions on its participation, but stressed what it called the importance of working within the framework of international resolutions.

The previous round of “indirect" talks failed last month only after two days. However, the truce agreed by the United States and Russia and approved by the UN Security Council seems to be holding in a country destroyed by five years of war. The number of casualties has fallen dramatically, especially among civilians.

The ceasefire does not apply to Jihadi groups like the al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front, and Islamic State group.

In its statement, the HNC said it would attend as part of its "commitment to international efforts to stop the spilling of Syrian blood and find a political solution". It also noted that it was not setting preconditions but insisted on commitment by all parties to international humanitarian agreements.

The HNC is pushing for an interim government with full executive powers in which President Bashar al-Assad and the current leadership would have no role. Representatives of the Syrian government are expected to attend the talks, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Ahead of next week’s "indirect" talks, the UN is cautiously optimistic, and has welcomed "fragile glimmers of hope" in Syria after the ceasefire allowed more aid deliveries. However, it warned that such progress was "just not enough" and more efforts were needed by both sides to arrive at a lasting ceasefire and a long-term political solution.

According to humanitarian agencies involved on the ground – UN, WFP, UNICEF, UNHCR, WHO – the most critical situations are in rural areas near Homs and in Aleppo, where 500,000 people are caught behind frontlines.

"Fewer bombs are falling; humanitarian access has opened up in some places; negotiators from all sides are preparing to come together and talk,” read a statement signed by several UN agencies. Everyone hopes that this 15 March will be "the last anniversary" of the war in Syria and that the Geneva talks will bring "real peace”.

Expected to last six months, the talks are aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has left 270,000 people dead since March 2011, plus 4.6 million internally displaced people and many more millions refugees abroad.

The focus will be on the plan laid out in December by the United Nations Security Council, which calls for an immediate cease-fire, a transitional government in six-month time and elections within 18 months.

For the opposition, any "transitional government" should put an end to President Assad’s rule.

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