Damascus delegate arrives in Geneva for talks with opposition

A delegate from the Syrian government is in Geneva for a fresh round of UN-brokered peace talks with opposition groups to find a political solution to the five-year-long conflict in the Arab country.

Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations and head of the government delegation Bashar al-Ja’afari arrived in the Swiss city on Sunday.

Spokesman of the main Syrian opposition group, the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Salim al-Muslat, also landed in Geneva on Sunday together with a number of other HNC officials. Two senior HNC officials had arrived in the city a day earlier.

The new round of negotiations is scheduled to begin on Monday. The talks collapsed early in February after the Saudi-backed opposition left the talks amid the Syrian army’s Russian-backed gains against militants on several fronts. During the previous round of the talks, the HNC entered Switzerland more than a day after the government delegation, and waited another two days before going to the UN headquarters.

Meanwhile, an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, brokered by Russia and the US, has been largely held in Syria since February 27, despite a number of recorded violations.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem warned on Saturday that the Damascus delegation would leave the talks after 24 hours if the opposition panel does not turn up.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem (AFP photo)

He also noted that it is only for Syrians to decide about the country’s future elections, rejecting UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura’s comments that the fresh talks would discuss the formation of a new government, a fresh constitution, as well as UN-monitored presidential and parliamentary elections within 18 months.

“We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency… Bashar al-Assad is a red line,” said Muallem, adding, “If they continue with this approach, there’s no reason for them to come to Geneva.”

The foreign-sponsored opposition group has repeatedly called for Assad to leave the power.

An HNC member, Monzer Makhous, said that Muallem’s warnings are “stopping Geneva before it starts.”

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. According to a February report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people, injured 1.9 million others, and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders.

By Press TV