Syrian opposition to head to Geneva for peace talks this month

Syria's main opposition group will attend peace talks this month in Geneva to discuss further steps related to a fragile ceasefire that is mostly holding for its second week, a member of the group told dpa on Monday.

Suheir al-Attasi, a member of the opposition's negotiating committee, said the group wants to focus the talks on the formation of a transitional government "with full executive powers."

Al-Attasi said the delegation would arrive in the Swiss city during the weekend.

The ceasefire, brokered by the US and Russia before being implemented on February 27, is being observed "on the whole," with some "individual provocations and gunfire," Russia's Defence Ministry said.

"Under these conditions, an initial priority is the safe return of the civilian population to their homes and the provision of humanitarian aid," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Russia has helped provide more than 600 tonnes of aid, including food and medical supplies, to Syrian population centres and intends to continue air-dropping such provisions, the statement said.

Meanwhile, activists in Syria reported that hardline Islamic militants were shelling a Kurdish neighbourhood in the north-western city of Aleppo.

"This is a serious violation of the ceasefire," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. He noted that some of the groups involved had signed up to the truce.

The shelling began on Sunday and has so far killed nine civilians and wounded 30 people in the Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood, controlled by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), reports said. Arab citizens were reported among the casualties.

Tensions are high in northern Syria between Kurds and some opposition groups.

Ahrar al Sham, a hardline Islamic faction that has backing from Turkey, is said to be among the groups shelling. Al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front, which is not part of the ceasefire, was also reportedly involved.

World powers hope the Geneva negotiations will initiate a political process to resolve the Syrian conflict, but the Syrian opposition's demand that President Bashar al-Assad have no role in the transitional government is likely to be a non-starter for the regime.

According to opposition sources, the representatives were invited to peace talks set for March 14. The talks were called in the lead-up to the start of the ceasefire, though their planned starting date has slipped from the original announcement of March 7.

The talks that led to the ceasefire also saw several delays in their start amid fraught negotiations about which parties would participate.

The Syrian conflict started as peaceful anti-government protests in 2011. It has since spiraled into a multi-sided civil war that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced at least 11 million people from their homes, according to UN estimates from June 2015.

Last update: Mon, 07/03/2016 - 13:56

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