• Switzerland's news in English
UN Syria envoy upbeat after opposition talks
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura leaves after holding talks with the HNC opposition. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

UN Syria envoy upbeat after opposition talks

AFP · 31 Jan 2016, 09:43

Published: 31 Jan 2016 09:43 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit
"I am optimistic and determined because it's an historic occasion not be missed," UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters as he left a Geneva hotel after an informal meeting with delegates from the High Negotiations Committee.
Representatives from the umbrella body for mainstream opposition groups, who arrived in Geneva late Saturday,were on Sunday morning refusing to enter the hoped-for talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government.
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), set to meet with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, were demanding that humanitarian aid first got through to besieged towns, that bombing of civilians ceased and that hundreds of prisoners were released.
"If the regime insists on continuing to commit these crimes then the HNC delegation's presence in Geneva will not be justified," coordinator Riad Hijab warned in a statement in Arabic posted online Saturday.
"The delegation will inform de Mistura of its intentions to withdraw its negotiating team if the UN and world powers are unable to stop these violations," he said.
Highlighting the dire humanitarian situation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Saturday said 16 more people had starved to death in Madaya, one of more than a dozen towns under blockade by regime or rebel forces.
More than 4.5 million people with "immense humanitarian needs" are living in areas extremely hard to access because of fighting, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
On Friday, the scheduled start of a planned six months of talks, protesters in Geneva highlighted the plight of ordinary Syrians with "siege soup" of grass and leaves.
The war that has killed more than 260,000 people since 2011 is a complex conflict sucking in -- on different sides -- Turkey, Iran and Gulf states and also Western countries and, since September, Russia.
A fresh spat between Russia and Turkey, two of the many outside powers embroiled in the conflict, erupted Saturday after Ankara accused Moscow of violating its airspace two months after it shot down a Russian jet.
The chaos in Syria has allowed the extremist Islamic State group to overrun swathes of Syria and also Iraq, giving it a launchpad to launch attacks the world over, most notably in Paris on November 13 with 130 dead.
Half of Syria's population have fled their homes, forcing million to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and also in Europe, where the influx is proving to be a major political and social headache.
On Saturday, dozens of migrant men, women and children, including Syrians, drowned when their boat sank off of Turkey -- adding to the almost 4,000 who perished trying to reach Europe by sea in 2015.
The intra-Syrian negotiations, if they get going, are part of an ambitious roadmap set out in November in Vienna by all the external powers involved.
Story continues below…
The process envisions elections within 18 months but leaves unresolved the future of Assad, whose regime has been making gains on the ground since Russia began supporting him with airstrikes in September.
Another thorny issue is which rebel groups will be involved in the talks, although all sides agree on the exclusion of extremists from Islamic State and the Nusra Front tied to Al-Qaeda.
Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most controversial groups in the HNC because of its ties to Nusra, was not represented in Geneva, HNC spokesman Riad Naasan Agha said.
And the powerful Army al-Islam rebel group "is here, they are a negotiator," he told reporters, but said HNC chief negotiator and Army of Islam member Mohammed Alloush had not arrived yet.
"There is every reason to be pessimistic, and there is no realistic scenario in which a breakthrough would be reached," said Karim Bitar, analyst at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Police arrest brother of ‘murdered’ Swiss teacher
The victim worked in a school in Stabio, near the town of Mendrisio. Photo: Oliver Graf

The primary school teacher was found dead in Ticino earlier this week.

Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Designed to house 20,000 people, the bunker was built in and over two motorway tunnels. Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben

The Local takes a tour of the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, opened 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
File photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Tourism

Skiers in Switzerland pay the highest prices for their ski passes of anywhere in Europe, according to research.

Eco group fights Bern over wind farm plans
There are currently more than 30 wind farms in Switzerland. Photo: Alpiq

Wind turbines are “gigantic and destructive” machines, says Paysage Libre Suisse.

Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Antoni Da Campo will now carry out his military service. Photo: Antoni Da Campo

A Swiss man who was told he would not be accepted for military service because of his strict veganism has finally succeeded in making the army change its mind.

Geneva terror suspects to receive compensation
File photo: Emran Kassim

The Swiss public prosecutor has dropped the case against them.

Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
File photo: The Local

The cow was at risk of drowning after falling into the private pool.

Uefa Champions League
Basel 'ready for battle' in Champions League clash
Basel training in Paris. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Swiss champions Basel fancy their chances of springing a surprise when they face Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Burst pipe causes major flood in Lausanne
The water flooded Place de la Riponne in Lausanne. File photo: Swiss Tourism/Christof Schuerpf

Water rushed down the streets after a pipe burst in the city centre.

Outcry after ‘neo-Nazi’ music festival held on Swiss soil
The village of Unterwasser was the tranquil location for the festival. Photo: Swiss Tourism

Should police have intervened?

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Photo: File
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
jobs available