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Opposition slams Russia, casts doubt on Syria peace talks

Syria's opposition alliance has slammed Moscow, saying Russia cannot enforce a truce and continue airstrikes. The opposition's remarks come as NATO said Moscow's involvement in the conflict prevents peace.

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), a Saudi-backed alliance of Syrian opposition groups, said on Friday that the "current conditions" of a ceasefire do not allow for peace talks to move forward.

"During the ceasefire, there were 90 airstrikes against 50 regions controlled by the moderate opposition," noted Riad Hijab, coordinator of the HCN, during a press conference following talks with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

"Current conditions in the country are not ripe for a resumption of negotiations," said Hijab. "No aid has entered the besieged areas and detainees have not been released."

He added that Russia could not be "responsible for the suffering of the Syrian people, and in control of enforcing the truce."

Riad's statement comes on the heels of reports that airstrikes hit a rebel-held area near Damascus.

Meanwhile, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said Russia is jeopardizing the ceasefire it helped broker with the US.

"As Russia has provided greater levels of military support for President Bashar al-Assad - including bombing moderate opposition groups, and driving tens of thousands of civilians from Aleppo and other cities - it has made it even more difficult to find a long-term end to the violence and a negotiated peace and political transition," Vershbow said at an annual conference in Krakow, Poland.

Russia joined the five-year conflict in September 2015, when it launched airstrikes on targets said to have been the self-styled "Islamic State" militant group. However, opposition groups and human rights organizations have said Moscow also targeted rebels fighting to oust al-Assad.

On Thursday, UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said he set March 9 as the date for peace talks between the al-Assad regime and opposition groups to resume.

However, the HNC's Hijab said the alliance has yet to decide on whether it will be participating.

Friday also marked a day of protests across several rebel-held areas in Syria under the banner: "The revolution continues."

More than 270,000 people have died since the conflict erupted in March 2011, when government forces violently cracked down on peaceful protesters calling for al-Assad to step down.

ls/bw (AFP, Reuters)

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