- The U.N. Syria envoy said yesterday that he was “optimistic and determined” following an informal meeting with the main opposition group, after it had threatened to leave before planned peace talks begin in earnest as fresh violence hit the country.
“I am optimistic and determined because it’s an historic occasion not to be missed,” U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters as he left a Geneva hotel after an informal meeting with delegates from the High Negotiations Committee (HNC).
The meeting took place outside the U.N.’s European headquarters, where talks on ending Syria’s nearly five-year conflict have been scheduled.
It came a day after HNC representatives said for now they would not enter the hoped-for indirect talks with representatives of Syrian President President Bashar Assad’s government, who began formal talks with de Mistura on Jan. 29.
Before agreeing to sit down for the so-called proximity talks, in which de Mistura is set to shuttle between the sides, HNC has demanded that humanitarian aid first gets through to besieged towns, that bombing of civilians ceases and that hundreds of prisoners are released.
“We only came to Geneva after written commitments on the fact that there would be serious progress on the humanitarian issues” HNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani told reporters.
“We are here for political negotiations but we cannot start those until we have those gestures” she said.
De Mistura meanwhile said it remained unclear if the HNC would agree to an official meeting at the U.N. later on Jan. 31.
It is “up to the HNC to let us know,” he said, stressing though that he was “optimistic, and we are working hard.”
He said he had paid the “courtesy call to the HNC” since “they deserved that we pay attention to their own concerns.”
“I have been explaining what is the plan and what all meetings are about,” he said.
He told journalists that HNC would “let you know and let me know when and how they can be part of this exercise.”
More than 50 killed
Bombings claimed by the Islamic State (IS) killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens yesterday near a revered Shiite shrine outside the Syrian capital Damascus. Syrian state media said more than 50 people had been killed in three blasts near the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, with some 100 people wounded. Official news agency SANA said the first blast was caused by a car bomb that detonated at a bus station near the shrine. It said two suicide bombers then set off their explosive belts.