U.N. invites Syria’s warring sides to talks

The U.N. announced the invitation to Geneva talks without giving any details of the attendees, or how many groups might participate

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The United Nations has invited Syria’s government and opposition to peace talks set to start in Geneva on Friday, a U.N. statement said on Tuesday, without giving any details of who had been invited, or how many groups might participate.

“The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has addressed invitations to the Syrian participants today, 26 January 2016, in accordance with the parameters outlined in Security Council resolution 2254 (2015),” the statement said. “The intra-Syrian talks will start as of 29 January 2016 in Geneva.”

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition council hoping to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power signaled on Tuesday it might accept an invitation to peace talks in Geneva but said a final decision would only be made on Wednesday.

“There is consensus in the High Committee on being positive in our decision (to accept),” spokesman Salim al-Muslat told Arabiya News Channels’ al-Hadath.


Earlier, the Syrian opposition cast doubt on whether it would go to peace talks planned for Friday, throwing U.N. diplomatic efforts into question and accusing the United States of adopting Iranian and Russian ideas for solving the conflict.

Some of the people that Russia backed to attend proposed peace talks over Syria peace also got invitations to the talks from the United Nations, two people who received invitations said on Tuesday.

“I have been invited, and Haitham Manaa, Saleh Muslim, Ilham Ahmed and Qadri Jamil. We were invited individually,” Randa Kassis, president of the Movement of the Pluralistic Society, told Reuters.

Saleh Muslim is one of the leaders of the Syrian Kurdish PYD. When contacted, Muslim said he had yet to be invited.

Haitham Manaa confirmed to Reuters he had been invited.

Also, Turkey on Tuesday said it strongly opposes the Syrian Kurdish group Democratic Union Party (PYD) taking part in U.N.-backed talks planned for later this week seeking a political solution to the Syrian crisis.

“We are categorically against the YPG and PYD sitting at the table,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told ruling party's lawmakers in parliament.

Turkey considers the PYD and its military wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) to be offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which wages an armed insurgency against Ankara.

France: opposition must lead

France’s foreign ministry also said on Tuesday that the Syrian opposition platform created in Riyadh last month must lead proposed talks with the Syrian government.

“The opposition group created in Riyadh gathers for the first time a large spectrum of politicians and non-jihadist military that are committed around a common project for a free, democratic and inclusive Syria,” ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said in a daily briefing to reporters.

“It is therefore up to this group to be the interlocutor of the regime in these negotiations.”

Nadal was responding to a question on whether Kurdish fighters should be part of talks expected to begin on Friday, as Russia has called for.

Remove ‘Berlin Wall’

Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and U.N. officials said they were willing to talk with any faction, including ISIS, if it helped deliver life-saving aid to victims of the conflict.

Peace talks, delayed by disputes over the make-up of the opposition delegation, are due to open on Friday.

Mistura has said that securing space for humanitarian workers was a top priority, with an estimated 4.5 million people living in besieged or restricted areas without regular access to aid.

Egeland, a former U.N. under-secretary general, said government and rebel forces could immediately pave the way for massive aid deliveries if they stopped playing "games."

He urged the rival parties to “tear down the Berlin Wall of hindrances they have built between us who can help and millions of defenceless civilians in the conflict zones.”

“We need agreed nation-wide humanitarian pauses and ceasefires now,” Egeland said. “It can be done from Geneva starting this weekend.”

(With AFP, Reuters)

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