Syrian Arab rebel groups hold Assad, Russia responsible for any failure of talks / Syrian National Council SNC President Khaled Khoja

BEIRUT,— 24 Jan 2016 – REUERTS / MESOP – Syrian armed rebel groups said on Saturday they held the Syrian government and Russia responsible for any failure of peace talks to end the country’s civil war, even before negotiations due to start in Geneva next week.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was confident the talks set for Jan. 25 would go ahead next week.

But negotiations look increasingly likely to stall with a dispute over the composition of the opposition negotiating team, and opposition demands that Russia halt bombing of civilian areas and the Syrian government lift sieges as goodwill measures before they will come to the table.“We hold the Assad regime and its Russian ally responsible for any failure of the political process due to their continued war crimes,” a joint statement from dozens of rebel factions said. It criticized Russian “meddling in the affairs of the opposition delegation”, a reference to Moscow demanding that the opposition’s negotiating team be expanded to include other figures that could be deemed closer to its own thinking, including the Kurdish PYD party of Syrian Kurdistan.The Syrian Arab rebels’ statement was signed off by groups including the powerful Jaysh al-Islam, whose politburo member Mohamad Alloush is the chief negotiator on the High Negotiations Committee — a body drawn up by civilian and armed opposition groups after a meeting in Riyadh last month.

Saudi Arabia backs opposition groups seeking to overthrow Assad.

Syrian Kurds must be represented at peace talks in Geneva or they will fail, a Syrian Kurdish leader said on Friday. Salih Muslim, co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), also said one of the opposition groups involved, Jaysh al-Islam, had the “same mentality” as al Qaeda and Islamic State.“If there are some parties that are effective in this Syria issue who are not at the table, it will be the same as what happened in Geneva 2,” Muslim told Reuters, referring to failed negotiations in 2014.

“The negotiations and political solution will fail so we are keen to have everyone at the table.” Muslim added. The PYD military wing, the People’s Protection Units YPG force in Syrian Kurdistan, which the US and Russia consider an ally in the fight against Islamic State, is the most effective group fighting IS in Syria, as the Kurdish militia has seized swathes of Syria from Islamic State with the help of U.S.-led strikes. Meanwhile the spokesperson of Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on Saturday, January 23, 2016, that Germany wishes for the Kurds to be part of Geneva’s peace talks on Syria.

The statement reiterates that the Kurds deserve a say in the future of Syria as a large ethnic group of the country. Currently, the negotiations are likely to be foiled due to conflicts in opinion regarding the participation of the Kurds. “Germany stresses the presence of all components of Syria. If all the components do not participate, there is no hope for the negotiations,” the spokesperson added. Russia backs its longtime ally President Bashar al-Assad and has bolstered pro-government forces with air strikes against insurgent groups since September. Turkey has objected to the inclusion of the Kurdish PYD in Syrian peace talks on the side of the opposition. Russia President Vladimir Putin said last September no one but Assad’s forces and Kurds are fighting Islamic State. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Gulf Arab countries in Saudi Arabia on Saturday for talks aimed at pushing the Syrian peace process forward and calming their concern about the international agreement over Iran’s nuclear program.Kerry began a stop in Riyadh by meeting with representatives of the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.He is also due to have talks with Riad Hijab, chair of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, which was formed in Saudi Arabia last month, amid uncertainty about whether Syrian peace talks slated to start next week in Geneva will take place. The Saudi-backed Syrian opposition ruled out even indirect negotiations with Damascus before preconditions are met, including a halt to Russian air strikes, contradicting Kerry’s hopes for talks to start next week.