Syrian opposition divided ahead of talks

Syrian groups opposed to President Bashar Assad are still sharply divided on who should represent them at peace talks which were scheduled to begin on Monday in Geneva but now appear to be delayed.

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The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has the final say on the delegation and who will receive invitations to attend the talks.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq indicated on Friday that the talks probably will not start on Monday, telling reporters that the UN envoy would hold a news conference in Geneva that afternoon to talk about next steps. Others have said the talks may be delayed by a few days.

“Where we stand on this right now is that Staffan de Mistura expects to at least roll out the process a bit on Monday,” Haq said.

“How that happens will become more clear on that date.”

At the Geneva news conference, he said de Mistura will “give some more details on what will happen next”.

Many in the opposition say Russia wants to add names to the delegation that opposition groups backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar announced this week by the Saudis.

Abdul-Basit Sieda of the Saudi-backed opposition said they reject Russia’s desire to add names to the opposition list.

One senior Kurdish official denounced the negotiating team announced in Saudi Arabia as a “delegation of jihadis.”

Another opposition official said Moscow wants to add to the delegation among others, Qadri Jamil, a former Syrian deputy prime minister, as well as Saleh Muslim, the co-president of the largest Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party or PYD.

Turkey, which has its own large and restive Kurdish population, strongly opposes any PYD participation.

The PYD’S military wing has been instrumental in the fight against the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

“The PYD wants to hijack the Kurdish cause in Syria,” said Sieda, himself a Kurd, but an opponent of the PYD.