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Syrian opposition calls for direct talks with government

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Salem al-Meslet (L), spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) umbrella group, speaks to journalists on the eve of peace talks on Syria, in Geneva on February 22, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Syria's main opposition group, the so-called High Negotiations Committee (HNC), has announced that it wants face-to-face negotiations with the Syrian government.

"We ask for direct negotiations... It would save time and be proof of seriousness instead of negotiating in (separate) rooms," said HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet on Wednesday on the eve of a new round of peace talks in Geneva.

The HNC serves as an umbrella group for militants and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We are here to negotiate… Let's start with direct negotiations," he added, while stressing that the talks should focus on establishing a transitional government in Syria.

Last week, the United Nations reversed its position on the issue of "political transition" in the upcoming round of peace talks. 

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The term "political transition" is interpreted by the foreign-backed opposition as the ouster of Assad or at least erosion of his powers.

Earlier this month, the HNC said that the Saudi-backed Ahrar al-Sham militant group and Jaysh al-Islam did not have any representatives in the opposition delegation, a development that was perceived as a sign that the armed opposition groups were trying to distance themselves from Riyadh's warmongering policies in Syria.

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During the previous rounds of talks held in Geneva, the two parties never negotiated directly and only communicated via UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The HNC’s comments come following a 10-month break in UN-sponsored negotiations aimed at ending six years of foreign-sponsored conflict in the Arab country.     

Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups along with other attendees take part in the second round of the Syria peace talks at the Rixos President Hotel, in Astana, Kazakhstan, on February 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A third round of peace talks sponsored by Iran, Russia and Turkey is also set to be held in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana by the end of the month and is expected to focus mostly on bolstering a Syria-wide ceasefire that has been in place since December 30.

The Geneva talks were originally planned to take place on February 8, but the UN envoy said he had rescheduled them to take further advantage of the fruits of the Astana discussions, the latest round of which was held on February 16.

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UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura delivers a speech during the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 19, 2017. (Photo by Reuters) 

'UN determined to keep proactive momentum'

Meanwhile, de Mistura has said that he was resolute on preserving a positive flow in the talks, while noting that he did not expect any immediate breakthroughs.

"I'm not expecting a breakthrough…But I am expecting and determined for keeping a very proactive momentum," he said.

De Mistura added that he sees the meetings as "the beginning of a series of rounds" that will allow its participants "go much more in depth on the substantive issues that are required for a political solution."

He added that the talks will be in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 aimed at ending the conflict in the Arab country.

The resolution, which was unanimously adopted in December 2015, aims to establish governance and come up with a new constitution.

"We will be very reluctant to engage in pre-conditions, and in fact I will be refusing them," the UN official added.

For nearly six years, Syria has been fighting foreign-sponsored militancy. The UN envoy estimated in August last year that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the crisis until then. The world body stopped its official casualty count in the war-torn country, citing its inability to verify the figures it received from various sources.

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