Syrian opposition rejects talks before goodwill steps

George Sabra, a senior Syrian opposition official, rejected indirect peace talks with the government before halt to Russian strikes

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A senior Syrian opposition official on Friday ruled out even indirect peace talks with the government before a halt to Russian air strikes and the lifting of government blockades on populated areas.

George Sabra, deputy head of the opposition delegation, also said the opposition council he represents was due to discuss diplomatic efforts with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday.

Kerry on Thursday insisted the talks would go ahead in Geneva next week, though he said they would not be face-to-face. The Syrian government, which is backed by Russia, has said it is ready to attend.

“The form of the talks does not concern us, but the conditions must be appropriate for the negotiations,” Sabra told Reuters. Asked if that meant the opposition would not attend the kind of indirect talks mentioned by Kerry, he said “yes”.

“So far, the obstacles in front of the conference have yet to be removed. There must be a halt to the bombardment of civilians by Russian planes, and sieges of blockaded areas must be lifted,” he said by telephone.

Syrian Kurds must be represented at peace talks in Geneva or they will fail, a Syrian Kurdish leader separately said on Friday, adding that one of the opposition groups involved, Jaysh al-Islam, had the “same mentality” as al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“If there are some parties that are effective in this Syria issue who are not at the table, it will be the same as what happened in Geneva 2,” Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) told Reuters, referring to failed negotiations in 2014.

“The negotiations and political solution will fail so we are keen to have everyone at the table.”

He also accused Jaysh al-Islam (Islam Army) of being no different to other radical Islamist groups. “Their mentality is the same as the Nusra Front and Daesh (ISIS). They clearly want to establish an Islamic state,” he said.

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