GENEVA (Reuters) - All members of the main Syrian opposition will leave peace talks in Geneva by Friday, their chief negotiator Asaad Zoubi said on Thursday, with little prospect of talks resuming unless the situation radically changes on the ground.
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which is backed in the talks with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by Western nations and key Arab states, paused its representation on Monday though it agreed to hold technical talks away from the United Nations building.
But the group on Thursday decided to finally draw a line under the negotiations until its demands were met relating to the military on the ground in Syria.
A partial truce, brokered by Washington and Moscow in February, initially reduced violence in the west, but fighting has picked up again, leaving the ceasefire in tatters.
“We say to (government negotiator Bashar) Ja’afari: if he wants a real national unity government, first he must release the 10,000 women in his prisons, and the tens of thousands more there,” another opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush, representing Jaish al Islam, a major rebel group, told reporters before leaving Geneva.
“And (he must) stop the massacres he is committing every day, so he can be a human with an ounce of nationalism. Then maybe the negotiations will resume.”
The HNC said on Monday it could not continue given the deteriorating military situation in Syria, lack of progress on humanitarian issues and complete impasse in discussing the release of thousands of prisoners.
Two senior Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the delegation had been given instructions by chief coordinator Riad Hijab to leave the talks by Friday.
“I’m saddened and believe it’s a mistake,” one diplomat said. “It will be very difficult to find a pretext for them to return given the situation on the ground and now the regime knows that a bombing will ensure they stay away.”
This diplomat said efforts were still being made to persuade officials to remain, but it appeared unlikely to happen.
Russian intervention late last year swayed the conflict in Assad’s favour and a U.S. official told Reuters Moscow was now repositioning artillery to northern Syria, including near the city of Aleppo.
“It’s understandable that the opposition felt unable to stay further given sustained regime attacks on Syrian civilians and continuation of siege and starvation tactics,” a second senior Western diplomat said. “Those who back the regime need to get a leash on them.”
Referring to the government delegation, he added that the U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura may decide to continue the talks, which had been scheduled to run until the middle of next week, with those who had yet to “offer any real ideas, to press them to do so.”
Declining to take questions on the state of the talks, de Mistura told reporters he would outline where the process stood on Friday.
Reporting By John Irish and Bushra Shakhshir; Editing by Richard Balmforth