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Syrian opposition in formal talks with UN, then backtracks

An official from Syria's main opposition group has told Saudi TV that it wants the Syrian regime to implement humanitarian measures on the ground immediately. The group held discussions with the UN peace envoy on Monday.

After traveling to Geneva to hold talks with United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, a Syrian opposition official accused de Mistura of overstepping the mark by declaring the formal start of the peace talks.

De Mistura held

the first talks with the main Syrian opposition umbrella group,

the High Negotiations Committee, on Monday after a

similar discussion with Syrian government officials on Friday

.

Following the talks, HNC official Monzer Makhous appeared to backtrack from his group's commitment, telling Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must implement humanitarian measures, such as the lifting of sieges, before peace talks can proceed.

"The Syrian regime must state directly, frankly and without ambiguity that it is ready to implement (United Nations) Articles 12 and 13 immediately, and it must not take more than a few days."

"If not, the High Negotiations Committee will not take part in any other process," Monzer said.

"We told (U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura) clearly that he must not interpret any interaction with him as being the start of the negotiations process," he said.

Later, Monzer told Reuters Television: "We are here for a few days. Just to be clear, only a few days. If there (is) no progress on the ground, we are leaving ... We are not here for negotiations, we are here to test the regime's intentions."

Goodwill measures promised

On Monday, the UN said Damascus had approved "in principle" aid deliveries to the besieged towns in Madaya, al-Foua and Kefraya.

"Based on this, the UN will submit a detailed list of supplies and other details, and will include and reiterate the request for nutrition supplies and entry of nutrition/health assessment teams," Jens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told journalists.

Monday's formal meeting with the HNC followed

preliminary discussions on Sunday

, which were a prelude to the so-called "proximity" talks which will see de Mistura meet separately with the opposition and government representatives in Geneva.

Others missing from talks

Meanwhile, another opposition coalition comprised of Syrian Kurds and Arabs, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), announced they would not participate in the peace talks.

"We decided on Sunday night to suspend our participation in negotiations so long as the five Kurdish and one Turkman delegates from our list do not receive invitations from UN mediator Staffan de Mistura," the group's leader Haytham Manna told the AFP news agency. The SDC was formed as the political branch of the Kurdish-Arab fighting force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Syrian opposition head Assad al-Zoubi

Assad al-Zoubi, head of the HNC and opposition member George Sabra in Geneva

Manna said his organization and leaders, including former Syrian Minister Qadri Jamil and secular activist Randa Kassis, had submitted a list of 35 representatives they wanted in the talks. However, only 29 were invited, following which the SDC decided to quit the meeting.

The discussions are part of a November roadmap outlined by the international community that sets an 18-month-long time table to enable political transition in Syria and draft a new constitution.

Syria has been embroiled in a five-year conflict that has killed over 250,000 people and displaced millions.

mg/jr (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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