The first peace talks on Syria in two years began amid uncertainty, but now a key opposition group has decided to join the delegations in Geneva.
But the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee —or HNC — says it wants to discuss humanitarian issues affecting Syria before engaging in negotiations.
HNC member, Hind Khabawat, outlined their goal:
“We are going to start discussing with the UN about our two important files, humanitarian and the political detainees. This is what is important for us”.
The group claims to have drawn up a list of some 3,000 Syrian women and children, who should be released from government prisons.
Representatives of the HNC say they changed their minds about attending the talks after receiving guarantees from the US and Saudi Arabia that their humanitarian demands would be met.
The opposition group has asked for lifts on blockades and an end to ongoing sieges as well as other demands relating to steps laid out by the UN Security Council in a resolution passed in December, 2015.
Its demands also included a halt on Russian-backed attacks on civilian areas.
Speaking from Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan placed the blame for the HNC’s hesitation at Moscow’s door.
“Unfortunately, the promises made to the opposition were not met. The continued Russian bombing of opposition areas has especially created a significant problem for them,” he said.
Spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, called for cooperation from all parties:
“We call on all sides to actively engage in the work and avoid any preparatory terms, and to search for really effective ways of achieving a political settlement in Syria.”
A delegation representing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has already begun so-called proximity talks with United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura.
The UN-brokered negotiations are expected to last up to six months, with negotiators moving between the parties involved, which will be hosted in separate rooms.
Hopes are low that the negotiations will amount to anything, particularly a resolution of the five-year-long crisis.
In a comment to Reuters news agency, one Western diplomat described the talks as a “complete failure” before they had even started.
On the same day the talks began, the Dutch government became the latest to extend its role in the US-led coalition against ISIL. Its forces will now broaden their participation to include the bombing of targets in Syria, the Dutch administration said in a statement.