Syria's opposition wants Russian pressure for peace within six months
Syrian Kurds protested on Wednesday outside the UN’s headquarters in Geneva demanding their voices be included in the Syrian peace talks
Syria’s opposition requested on Wednesday that Russia and other states put real pressure on president Bashar Al Assad to engage in peace talks in Geneva aimed at resolving the six-year conflict within six months.
“We want more pressure on the regime to engage in the negotiation and continue in the negotiation to reach a political solution in six months, as [UN Security Council Resolution] 2254 says,” Nasr Hariri, the opposition delegation chief, told Reuters.
“The opposition is calling and will continue to call for direct talks with the regime” Mr Hariri said ahead of a meeting with UN officials on Wednesday evening.
And Hanadi Abu A'rab, the deputy of the opposition called on Germany, the UK and Netherlands to “affirm that reconstruction is not possible in Syria without implementing international resolutions and achieving an inclusive transition.”
Mr Hariri said that the opposition has no preconditions for talks but it does expect to speak about all the details of a political transition, which include the fate of Mr Assad.
He said that the Assad government is currently detaining 200,000 people, and talks should first make progress on humanitarian issues and detainees.
Mr Hariri added that UN’s special envoy to Syria and mediator at the talks, Staffan de Mistura, may extend discussions to last until December 15.
Negotiators of the Syrian government arrived in Geneva on Wednesday morning and held initial talks with Mr de Mistura.
The government delegates delayed their planned departure for the talks, which began on Tuesday, because of the opposition’s insistence Mr Assad should step down. With regime representatives absent, the unified opposition delegation met with UN officials in Geneva on Tuesday alone.
The fate of the Syrian leader has remained a sticking point in years of UN attempts to get the government and opposition to agree on a road map for Syria's future.
It comes after Russia reportedly put pressure on the Syrian government to engage in the negotiations in Geneva.
A European diplomat told The National on the sidelines of the talks that it is “helpful and not coincidental that the Russians have engaged” in pushing the regime to come to Geneva.
“We would like to see more of it, want to see the Russians work with the P5 (permanent members of the UN Security Council) to help come up — with the parameters [to the crisis],” he said.
With Russian military support, the Syrian regime has made major advances against the opposition, regaining control of 55 per cent of the country.
"I think the Russians have some really strong cards, but I don't think they hold all the cards," the European diplomat said.
"That is why Geneva is such a significant, important process, because only Geneva has the legitimacy to bring together all of those constituent parts and only Geneva will unlock the significant international aid that is required to put Syria back on its feet."
On Tuesday, the Syrian government agreed to a ceasefire in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, which has been under siege by government forces since 2013, Mr de Mistura said.
The eastern Damascus suburb is among the last remaining opposition strongholds in Syria and located in one of four so-called "de-escalation zones", where fighting between regime forces and rebels was supposed to cease under a deal brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey earlier this year.
Ahead of the government delegation's arrival in Geneva, Mr de Mistura said he believed it is possible for the two sides to narrow their differences during talks in the Swiss city, as they negotiate within a framework approved by the UN Security Council that calls for a new constitution and elections.
But he repeated that he will not accept either side entering the talks with preconditions.
“Mr Al Assad’s regime will need to meaningfully engage in peace talks if they are serious about bringing the crisis to an end,” the diplomat said.
“Syria might yet get worse before it gets better."
Editorial: Syrian regime mocks Geneva peace talks
Meanwhile, Syrian Kurds protested on Wednesday outside the UN’s headquarters in Geneva demanding their voices be included in the Syrian peace talks.
Head of the Kurdish National Council Ibrahim Berro told The National that “the Kurdish community in Europe is here in Geneva to send a message to Mr de Mistura and the opposition demanding their rights to be heard".
“For years the Kurds have been neglected, even before the Syrian uprising. We have been facing systemic discrimination since the formation of the Syrian state,” Mr Berro said.
“The Syrian opposition wants to reach an agreement with the Syrian government without guaranteeing any rights to the Kurds,” Aisha Aylan, a 26-year-old lawyer living in Berlin said. “We are here demanding for a formation of a federal state, not just an Arab state."
Spread over Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran the Kurds are often referred to as the largest ethnic group without a state. Now more than ever, they are exerting pressure on regional governments to establish a state they have been longing for since the beginning of the 20th century.
In Syria, they account for 15 per cent of the country’s population, before the war erupted.
Sarah Ahmed, 27, a doctor, said: “The Kurdish population in Syria is the second largest minority and for that we are demanding for our rights and our voices to be heard in Geneva.”
“We feel isolated and neglected by the international community, this is why I travelled from Amsterdam to Geneva,” Elend Adel said.
“We want to ensure that our rights are included in Syria’s political transition, I’m hoping that our issue will not be neglected this time round,” he said.
Updated: November 30, 2017 12:19 AM