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Syrian opposition to join UN talks, not negotiations

Syria's mainstream opposition coalition have announced that they will attend UN talks in Geneva. The Riyadh-backed HNC said they received assurances regarding their demands from the UN and the US secretary of state.

The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) comprising several opposition groups, including the Syrian National Coalition, announced on Friday that they will be sending a small delegation to attend UN peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the five-year conflict in Syria.

A senior delegate told AFP news agency that the delegation will consist of "about 30, 35 people."

In a statement, the HNC said it took its decision to join after receiving assurances from the UN and US Secretary of State John Kerry of support for the implementation of its demands, which are in line with UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.

The opposition group said it was heading to Geneva "to test the seriousness of the other side," referring to their demand that government forces lift blockades on towns and halt the bombardment of civilians.

They added that implementing the UN Security Council resolutions would be a "prelude" to a formal negotiating process.

The delegation is expected to arrive on Saturday, according to Ahmad Ramadan, head of the Syrian National Coalition's media department.

Representatives of the HNC met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair prior to the announcement.

"The kingdom welcomes the decision taken by the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian revolutionary and opposition forces in Riyadh to take part in the Geneva negotiations," the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.

Aiming for Sunday

Prior to the HNC making their decision public, UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said he believed that he could be holding talks with the opposition as early as Sunday after meeting with a government delegation.

"I have good reasons to believe that they are actually considering this very seriously, and therefore to be in a position on probably Sunday to actually start the discussion with them, in order to be able to proceed with the intra-Syrian talks," de Mistura told reporters.

The talks aim to bring all sides of the Syrian conflict - save for the "Islamic State" and al-Nusra Front militant groups - to the negotiating table for a political transition within 18 months.

The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011 when government forces killed peaceful protesters demanding the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad.

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and 4.5 million people displaced, according to UN figures.

Watch video 01:55

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ls/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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