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Syria opposition: Regime quitting peace talks is an embarrassment to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) in Sochi, Russia on 21 November 2017 [Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu Agency]
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) in Sochi, Russia on 21 November 2017 [Kremlin Press Office/Anadolu Agency]

The Syrian opposition has called the government of President Bashar Al-Assad’s decision to quit UN-led peace talks in Geneva an embarrassment to Russia, Reuters reported yesterday.

The comments came after the Syrian regime exited talks on Friday in protest of opposition groups restating their demand that Al-Assad play no role in any future national government.

“For us [this] round is over, as a government delegation. He, as mediator, can announce his own opinion,” government chief negotiator Bashar Al-Ja’afari said after a morning of talks, referring to UN mediator Staffan de Mistura.

The regime arrived at the talks a day late last week, which many took as an indication of Al-Assad’s non-committal attitude to negotiations, even before the sudden exit.

Pressed on whether the government delegation would return to Geneva next week, Al-Ja‘afari replied: “Damascus will decide.”

Opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told reporters that such a move was contrary to the aims of the regime’s supporters who were looking for a swift solution to the conflict which is now in its seventh year.

“I don’t think that those who support the regime are happy with such a position being taken by the regime. This is an embarrassment to Russia,” Al-Aridi said at the hotel where the opposition delegation is staying in Geneva.

Read: Syrian opposition groups work to de-radicalise Daesh fighters

Russian intervention in the Syrian conflict since 2015 has significantly contributed to the regime’s success in defeating Daesh and opposition forces in the country.

Some of the opposition groups have reportedly started to accept Russia’s role. Western diplomats say Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev was present at the Riyadh meeting last month where the opposition represented at the conference drew up a statement rejecting any future role for Al-Assad.

Asked if the opposition was willing to compromise on Al-Assad’s role in any post-war government, Al-Aridi said his delegation’s demands were based on the wishes of the Syrian people.

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“I believe that our mere presence in Geneva is in itself a compromise. We are sitting with a regime that has been carrying out all these atrocities for the past seven years. What other compromise could we make?”

More than half a million people are believed to have been killed since 2011, the vast majority by the Assad government and allied forces. The regime has also used chemical weapons against civilians and prevented aid from reaching those affected on the ground. UN officials further estimate that some ten million people have been displaced as a result of the fighting.

Read: Russia proposed Syria summit draws mixed reactions from international community

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