Syrian Rebel Opposition Confirms It Will Not Attend Peace Talks To End Five-Year Civil War

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Syrian rebel groups came to a final decision about attending the civil war peace talks scheduled in Geneva Friday: They’re not going to negotiate.

The rebel groups arrived at their decision while at a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, saying that because crucial pre-negotiation concessions weren’t made, the talks would not be able to move forward, Reuters reports.

Those concessions included a complete stop to airstrikes on civilians and the removal of blockades on supply routes.

“We can’t sit down and negotiate when our people need milk,” Hind Kabawat, member of the Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee, told The BBC. “We need to stop the sieges. We need to stop the starvation of our people.”

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura nevertheless began the talks Friday and discussed several pressing issues with the delegation from the Syrian government. The process is by no means quick, likely to continue for at least 6 months.

Mistura said in a statement that meetings with “other participants” will take place after the meeting with Syrian officials. What exactly Mistura meant by other participants is not clear. A tweet from Syria Opposition HNC confirms that while opposition delegate leaders are coming to Geneva for a discussion, they are still not interested in negotiations.

“It is a complete failure,” a Western diplomat said of the talks to Reuters, adding that they serve only to bolster the claims of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“They are completely off the hook,” the anonymous diplomat added. “With whom are they going to talk? If you want to engage in negotiations, you have to have a partner. It’s a wonderful occasion for the regime to show they are willing.”

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned the rebels earlier this week that declining to attend the talks would hand legitimacy over to Assad.

“For the opposition not to attend the talks would hand a propaganda coup to the regime,” Hammond told The Guardian. “The opposition must engage in talks. We need to focus on confidence-building measures, including a ceasefire.”

Secretary of State John Kerry has also urged the rebels to come to the negotiating table.

Rebels paid no heed.

Pro-Assad forces appear to be making major strides in the civil war, meaning that for Assad, peace talks are not a priority.

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