Syria government demands opposition condemn Homs attack

Reuters– The Syrian government delegation at peace talks in Geneva told the United Nations on Saturday that it wanted opposition groups to condemn an attack on security forces earlier in the day, saying that otherwise they would be considered terrorists.

Suicide bombers stormed two Syrian security offices in Homs on Saturday, killing dozens with gunfire and explosions including the head of military security. The attack prompted air strikes against the last rebel-held enclave in the western city.

“Today, the test is that we expect that the (opposition)platforms (in Geneva) condemn this terrorist attack,” chief negotiator Bashar Ja’afari told reporters after a 2-1/2 hour-long meeting with the U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura.

“If anyone refuses to condemn this terrorist attack then he is an accomplice of terrorism and we will deal with them accordingly.”

U.N. Syria envoy Ja’afari, known for his diplomatic skills and staunchly defending President Bashar al-Assad’s position, spoke to reporters for some 45 minutes in a news conference.

He almost entirely focused on the need to combat terrorism, demanded that opposition groups in Geneva condemn the Homs attack and pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both backers of rebel fighters – for “sponsoring terrorism.”

“We told de Mistura that we are looking for commonalities to look forward,” he said after a meeting which he described as only tackling the fight against terrorism.

“We also told him how can we discuss with anyone that doesn’t condemn terrorism.”

Ja’afari ruled out leaving the talks, saying he would meet de Mistura again on Tuesday, but he implied that some of the opponents that had sat face-to-face with at Thursday’s opening ceremony were “sponsors of terrorism.”

When asked what would make the government accept direct talks with opposition members, Ja’afari said he wanted to see a unified opposition.

“An opposition delegation that condemns terrorism and does not justify it no matter what and an opposition that does not work to serve an agenda,” he said.

The Geneva peace talks, the first under U.N. auspices in about 10 months, were convened after a shaky ceasefire was brokered in the Kazak capital Astana between Assad allies Russia and Iran and rebel backers Turkey.

“We believe in the Astana track. If it is needed that we go back to Astana as tourists than we shall. Its’ a beautiful city with exceptional hospitality,” Ja’afari said when asked whether talks to cement the ceasefire should resume there.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Angus MacSwan)