Syrian opposition says govt trying to block Geneva talks

Jihad Makdissi, former spokesman for the Syrian foreign ministry who heads the independent Cairo platform, told The Irish Times his group's objectives - reform and decentralisation - were at odds with the goal of the Riyadh delegation, which was the removal of president Bashar al-Assad.

"We want to give a chance to the Syrian people, to the Syrian parties, to try to have some type of dialogue" that can lead "beyond just a conflict", he told reporters in Geneva.

Mr de Mistura has said he does not expect an immediate breakthrough and is hoping neither side will seek to disrupt the new round of talks by provoking the other.

The President of the Syrian National Coalition continued:"we will go to Geneva to look for political solutions in order to make a political transition".

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "encouraged that the Syrians. sat together in the same room", his spokesman in NY said, even if it remains unclear whether the two sides will actually hold face-to-face negotiations. "I am convinced it will be worthwhile".

"Until now, we have not seen any seriousness by the regime".

Speaking ahead of the Geneva meeting, an opposition delegation member told AP that they hoped to achieve "at least something at the human dimension: lifting the siege in certain areas, getting aid to those who are besieged". "If anyone refuses to condemn this terrorist attack then he is an accomplice of terrorism and we will deal with them accordingly". "There is no trust in this regime".

President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russian Federation and Iran, has gained the military advantage over the past year. Assad's forces have the upper hand after recapturing full control of the city of Aleppo in December and making key advances around the capital, Damascus.

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"Today I had a meeting with Secretary General of the United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura during which we discussed the format of the upcoming meetings", he said stressing that only the format of further negotiations was discussed.

During the four previous rounds the two sides have refused to engage directly and the United Nations mediator has shuttled between them.

A bitter dispute over Assad's fate also continues to divide the camps. "But I am expecting and determined to keep a very pro-active momentum".

Attacks in Syria's third city of Homs, which left dozens dead on February 25, aimed to "spoil" peace talks under way in Geneva, the UN's envoy said.

The form of political transition however differs widely between the warring sides.

Anas al-Abdah demanded the new USA government to design a clear strategy towards the current situation in Syria.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari emerged from a meeting with de Mistura earlier in the day and said the discussion was focused "only" on the format of future meetings.

"As opposition, we're looking forward and waiting for a positive role for the U.S. in the region".

  • Sonia Alvarado