Rebels: Government, Russia responsible if peace talks fail

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2016 10:37 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition groups said Saturday it is "impossible" to begin a negotiating process with the government without the implementation of U.N. resolutions pertaining to humanitarian issues, and denounced what they said were Russian "dictates" to the opposition negotiating team.

A joint statement signed by 45 opposition and rebel groups said that while they support a political process, they hold the Syrian government and its Russian backers responsible for any failure in peace talks due to their "ongoing crimes."

The statement cast further doubts on U.N.-sponsored peace talks which were scheduled to begin Monday in Geneva but now appear to be delayed amid continued divisions over who should represent the opposition at the talks.

The current opposition negotiating team announced in Saudi Arabia earlier this week includes Saudi-backed Islamic rebel factions like Jaish al-Islam, or the Army of Islam, which are considered terrorists by the Syrian government and Russia. It excludes, among other groups, representatives of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, the largest Kurdish group which has been instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

Opposition groups have accused Russia of obstructing the talks by trying to impose conditions on which opposition groups can participate, and said the opposition will not take part in talks while Syrians die from blockades and Russian and government airstrikes. Moscow is a key ally of the Syrian government and has been carrying out airstrikes against insurgents since Sept. 30.

The statement issued Saturday was signed by the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, as well as 44 rebel groups including Jaish al-Islam.

It called for the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that call on parties to immediately allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access throughout Syria, in particular in all besieged areas, and to cease attacks against civilians.

"We consider the fulfillment of these provisions a basic human right without which it is impossible to begin the negotiating process," the statement said. It added: "We fully and categorically reject Russian dictates ... (and) barefaced meddling in the affairs of the opposition delegation."