01/30/2016, 16.19
SYRIA – UNITED NATIONS
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Opposition group to join Geneva talks on Syria conflict

The High Negotiations Committee announces it will send 30-35 people to Geneva to join UN, US and Syrian representatives to negotiate an end to a conflict that has claimed 260,000 lives since 2011. UN Security Council resolution approved last month calls for an immediate cease-fire, a transitional government in six months and elections within 18.

Geneva (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After saying no, the main Syrian opposition group has said it will join peace talks that have opened in Geneva.

A senior opposition leader told AFP that the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) will send "about 30, 35 people" to the talks. Initially, the opposition had ruled out negotiations with President Bashar al-Assad. This raises some hope for a solution to the Syrian crisis.

UN, US and Syrian delegates arrived in the Swiss city yesterday. The opposition had two preconditions for participating, a ceasefire and humanitarian aid to besieged cities. Farrah el-Atassi, an activist close to the HNC, told Reuters that the opposition would focus on humanitarian relief and the release of political prisoners.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday had a phone conversation with the HNC, urging the group to attend the talks. State Department spokesman John Kirby later told reporters that Washington believed it was "important for these talks to continue without preconditions".

The UN special envoy for the Syria crisis Staffan de Mistura said he had a "good reason to believe" that the main opposition group would join the talks in Geneva on Sunday. In a video message to the Syrian people on Thursday, Mr de Mistura said the talks "cannot fail".

The goal of the negotiations - which are expected to last six months - is to stop the war in Syria, which has claimed more than 260,000 lives since March 2011, as well as forced 4.6 million people into exile, and displaced another 12 million within the country.

The talks will focus on a timetable set in December by the United Nations Security Council, which provides for an immediate cease-fire, a transitional government in six months and elections within the next 18 months.

The immediate priorities of the talks are a broad ceasefire, and humanitarian aid deliveries. This should lead to a peace settlement based on a transitional period ending with elections within 18 months, in line with a UN Security Council resolution approved last month.

For their part, the opposition insists on a "transitional government" to put an end to the rule of President Assad.

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