A delegation from Syria’s main opposition group arrived in Geneva on Saturday to join U.N.-mediated peace talks, demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s government be made to comply with a U.N. resolution on humanitarian aid and human rights. “We are keen to make this negotiation a success,” opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat told reporters as the delegation arrived from Riyadh, ending weeks of uncertainty about whether they would come and the talks would happen.
The 17-strong team from the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), including political and militant opponents of Assad in the country’s 5-year-old civil war, is expected to have a first meeting with the U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, setting up the first peace talks in two years.
Muslat said the HNC insisted on implementation of a U.N. resolution demanding all sides allow aid access, release detainees, end sieges and stop targeting civilian areas.
That was not a precondition for talks, he said, but it was the duty of the Security Council members who agreed the resolution last month, including Syria’s chief ally Russia, which is supporting Assad’s forces with a bombing campaign.
Russian air strikes on Syria have killed nearly 1,400 civilians since Moscow started its aerial campaign nearly four months ago, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said on Saturday.
“We are going to Geneva to put to the test the seriousness of the international community in its promises to the Syrian people and to also test the seriousness of the regime in implementing its humanitarian obligations,” HNC spokesman Riyad Naasan Agha said.
“We want to show the world our seriousness in moving towards negotiations to find a political solution,” he told Reuters.
Opposition coordinator Riad Hijab, who was not among the first HNC group to arrive, said in a statement posted online that there would have to be humanitarian improvements to justify the delegation’s continued presence in Geneva.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the talks must ensure human rights are upheld as participants work towards a political transition in Syria.