Riad Hijab arrives in Geneva to join troubled peace talks

Friday 29/01/2016
Will his presence rekindle troubled talks?

GENEVA - Syrian opposition chief Riad Hijab arrived in Switzerland on Wednesday afternoon, his grouping said, in a move that could rekindle troubled UN-brokered peace talks.

"Riad Hijab has arrived in Geneva," the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said on its official Twitter account.

Hijab is expected to immediately join a tense internal HNC meeting in which the group will decide its next steps in the talks.

A reporter said that UN envoy Staffan de Mistura also arrived at the hotel, with an opposition source saying he was there to meet Hijab informally.

Hijab’s arrival was seen as a potentially positive sign because of the weight he carries with the HNC, a Saudi-backed opposition alliance that is opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

"With Hijab here, the HNC can better demonstrate a unified position in representing the opposition," a Western diplomat said in Geneva on condition of anonymity.

"This is a very complicated process and it's going to require all the actors to remain in constant dialogue," the diplomat said

Earlier today, the Syrian opposition's chief negotiator said he was "not optimistic" about strained efforts to end the war ravaging his country.

Mohammed Alloush, a leading member of the powerful Army of Islam rebel group, told journalists that those pressing to form a unity government with regime members were "delusional."

"Whoever wants us to go into a unity government with these thugs who kill children is delusional," he said, minutes before heading into a meeting with the main opposition grouping, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC).

The HNC was in internal talks on Wednesday morning to discuss its next steps, after a similar, tense meeting the previous evening, an opposition source said.

Asked what the grouping would discuss today, Alloush clutched a picture of a young boy who he said had been severely wounded by Russian air strikes in Syria.

"The problem is not with (UN envoy Staffan) de Mistura. The problem is with the criminal regime that decimates children and with Russia which always tries to stand alongside criminals," Alloush said.

"A political solution is very important for the HNC, but it is not more valuable than the blood of the Syrian people," he said in a statement published by the HNC.

In the statement, Alloush accused the Syrian government of "undermining opportunities to reach the negotiations phase by refusing to execute the humanitarian conditions."

His appointment as chief negotiator has been controversial. Syria's government and Russia regularly refer to the Army of Islam as "terrorists."

Alloush, a stocky, bearded man in his 40s, also said Kurdish forces fighting jihadists in northeast Syria were "a branch of the regime."

He told reporters the HNC would be taking a decision "in two days" but did not specify what that decision was.