Opposition demands answers before joining Syria talks
By Tom Perry, Tom Miles and John Irish
The Syrian opposition is awaiting a response to its demands from the United Nations before deciding whether to attend peace negotiations planned for Friday.
]The Syrian government has already agreed to join the talks that U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura hopes to convene in an indirect format in Geneva with the aim of ending the five-year-old war that has killed 250,000 people.
But a Saudi-backed opposition council that includes armed and political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad has yet to decide whether to go. Its presence is seen as vital if the long-awaited negotiations are to go ahead. While it has expressed support for a political solution, the opposition reiterated demands including a halt to attacks on civilian areas before any negotiations begin.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) also called for the lifting of sieges on blockaded areas.
The HNC, which has convened in Riyadh to decide whether to go to Geneva, is seeking clarification from de Mistura.
"We sent the questions. We are awaiting the response," said an opposition source, who confirmed the letter's authenticity.
Opposition officials have long insisted they cannot agree to negotiations before their conditions are met by the government and its allies as a gesture of goodwill.
Monzer Makhous, an HNC member, said: "We are still in discussion. We are still waiting for de Mistura's response. I can't say if the discussions will be finished today or not. I have mixed feelings." Another HNC member said de Mistura must clarify the aim of the talks. "There is a problem we would like to clarify with de Mistura.
Is the main aim of these negotiations for them to be held or to succeed?" Riyadh Naasan Agha told Al Jazeera TV.