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The New Arab

Syrian opposition postpone decision on Geneva talks

Over 260,000 people have been killed in the Syrian war [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 28 January, 2016

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The opposition's High Negotiations Committee has postponed making a decision on whether or not to attend the Geneva peace talks on Friday, awaiting for UN clarifications on the process.
Syria's opposition on Wednesday postponed a decision on joining peace talks in Geneva, as wrangling over who will go threatens to derail the biggest push yet to resolve the war.

The High Negotiations Committee - formed last month in an effort to unite Syria's fractious political and armed opposition - met in Riyadh for a second day on whether to accept a United Nation's invitation to the Geneva talks.

Salem al-Meslet, a Committee spokesman, said in a statement, released on Wednesday, that the group cannot make a decision until it has received a response from UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The Committee insists it must be the sole opposition delegation at the talks and wants "clarifications" after the United Nations issued invitations to other regime opponents.

Meslet added there was a "positive" atmosphere at the Riyadh meeting.

He said the Committee also needs clarification that the international community will address humanitarian issues.

Opposition figures within the Committee told The New Arab that the group might send a "technical delegation" to the Geneva talks if they do not receive a response from the UN envoy before Friday.

"The small technical delegation will initially follow developments in Geneva," said the sources who wished to remain anonymous.

The Geneva negotiations had already been delayed from Monday over the issue of who will represent the myriad forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's nearly five-year civil war.

Instead of meeting face-to-face, Geneva delegations are expected to engage in indirect negotiations.

Officials have said the talks, only the second intra-Syrian dialogue since the start of the conflict, would run over six months, with the first round expected to last between two and three weeks.

Syria's regime has designated its UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari as its chief negotiator.

Diplomats, including US Secretary of State John Kerry who met Committee members last weekend, have pressured the opposition to go to Geneva.

The talks are part of a UN-backed plan, agreed by top diplomats last year in Vienna, that envisages negotiations followed by a transitional government, a new constitution, and elections within 18 months.

The roadmap is the most ambitious plan yet to end the conflict, which has killed more than 260,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

De Mistura's office said on Tuesday it had issued invitations to the talks, but refused to say who had been invited.

The Committee, which earlier this month named Mohammed Alloush of the Islamist rebel group Jaysh al-Islam as its chief negotiator, confirmed it had received an invitation, but so did several other opposition figures not belonging to the body.

It was unclear whether the others had been invited as official delegates or as observers.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday it was his understanding that only the Committee would be recognised as a negotiating delegation.

"(The Committee) is representative and it must be the negotiator, that is what was confirmed to me by Mr. De Mistura, even if there can be other people" at the talks, Fabius told France Culture radio.

Committee coordinator Riad Hijab said in statement on Tuesday that a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to sieges in Syria and the delivery of humanitarian aid "should not be ignored".

Agencies contributed to this report.

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