Syrian opposition assesses peace talks
A delegation from Syria's main opposition group has flown to Geneva to assess whether to join Damascus government officials in United Nations-brokered peace talks, an opposition representative says.
The 17-strong team included the head of the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), which includes political and militant opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country's five-year civil war.
The HNC has said it wants to discuss humanitarian issues including a stop to Russian and Syrian government bombing before engaging in the peace talks that started on Friday in Geneva (local time).
Russian air strikes on Syria have killed nearly 1400 civilians since Moscow started its aerial campaign nearly four months ago, monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 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," Riyad Naasan Agha said.
"We want to show the world our seriousness in moving towards negotiations to find a political solution," he told Reuters.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Saturday the Geneva talks must ensure human rights are upheld as participants work towards a political transition in Syria.
"Humanitarian law must be respected and the objective of a political transition actively pursued to enable the talks to succeed," Fabius said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has said no direct talks were expected in Geneva, only proxy talks.
Gatilov said there were no preconditions for the Syrian talks and that Moscow welcomed the decision by Syrian opposition coordinator, Riad Hijab, to take part in talks in Geneva.
The UN earlier said the aim would be six months of talks, first seeking a ceasefire, later working toward a political settlement to a war that has killed more than 250,000 people, driven more than 10 million from their homes and drawn in global powers
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the negotiations would be test of intentions.
"Only at the negotiating table will it become clear if both sides are prepared to make painful compromises so that the killing stops and Syrians have a chance of a better future in their own country."
The HNC's demands include allowing aid convoys into rebel-held besieged areas where tens of thousands are living in dire conditions, Agha said.
He said the opposition delegation would not call for a complete cessation of hostilities but would demand an end to "the indiscriminate shelling of markets, hospitals and schools by the regime and its Russian backers".
Russia and Syria deny targeting civilians, saying they take great care to avoid bombing residential areas.