Syria opposition seeks Russian clarity at Geneva talks

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The main opposition group at Syrian peace talks in Geneva wants to meet Russian envoys to discuss what it says are Moscow’s broken ceasefire promises, a move diplomats say aims to put pressure on the Russian-backed Syrian government delegation.

Russia has sought to revive diplomacy since its air force helped the Syrian army and allied militias defeat rebels in Aleppo in December, President Bashar al-Assad’s biggest victory in six years of war.

Despite the announcement of a ceasefire, a weekend of bombings and air strikes in Syria has rattled the talks that began in Geneva last week, reports Reuters.

“The Russians did not fulfill a ceasefire agreement despite the promises from the highest levels of the Russian delegation,” Mohammed Alloush, a negotiator and member of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, told Reuters.

Alloush said opposition negotiators sought a meeting with Russian foreign ministry officials later on Monday, but another opposition delegate later said the meting had been pushed back to Tuesday. A diplomat, who did not confirm the date, said it could include Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and Middle East director Sergei Vershinin.

Russia, Turkey and Iran have sponsored parallel talks, in the Kazakh capital Astana, to reinforce the shaky ceasefire that paved the way for a resumption of U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva, the first U.N.-led mediation effort in 10 months.

But violence has continued and the warring sides have traded blame while appearing no closer to actual negotiations. U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said a militant attack in Homs on Saturday was a deliberate attempt to wreck the talks.

“The opposition wants to see the Russians to tell them to put pressure on the government or else this process will lead nowhere,” said a Western diplomat.

He said the Syrian government chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari’s refusal to discuss anything beyond countering terrorism at a weekend meeting with de Mistura was a clear indication that Damascus was not committed.

De Mistura, who is treading carefully to keep the talks alive, has so far talked to the two sides separately. He meets the opposition later on Monday, before hosting the government on Tuesday as he tries to forge an understanding of how to proceed in future rounds.

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