A spokesman for the Syrian rebels said on Monday that the group vows to continue fighting should the talks with head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad in the Kazakh capital Astana fail.
“If the negotiations succeed, then we are with the negotiations,” rebel spokesman Osama Abu Zeid told AFP.
“If they don’t succeed, unfortunately we’ll have no choice but to continue fighting.”
Syria’s warring sides met on Monday for talks for the first time in nine months, with slim chances of developments.
They sat opposite each other at a round table in a hotel conference room before a day of negotiations – sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana – got under way.
Both delegations said the focus was on the country’s ceasefire, a fragile precursor to a wider political solution.
The United Nations envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura is calling on the warring sides to agree on mechanisms to implement a nationwide truce.
De Mistura says the talks in Kazakhstan, if successful in consolidating the current cease-fire, can pave the way for direct talks between the different Syrian parties in Geneva next month. Speaking on the first day of the talks Monday, De Mistura says finding ways to build confidence between the Syrian government and its armed opposition will also improve the fight against terrorist groups, who are excluded from a ceasefire reached on Dec. 30
The opening session of the Astana talks could have marked the first time the armed rebel groups engaged in direct negotiations with Assad’s regime since the conflict erupted in 2011.
Rebels have said that the talks — organized by regime backers Iran and Russia and rebel ally Turkey — are meant to bolster a frail truce brokered by Moscow and Ankara last month.
On a different note, head of Syria’s rebel delegation at the peace talks Mohammad Alloush has called for placing foreign militias fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s army on the list of terrorist organizations.
During his speech at the opening session of talks in Astana Monday, said such groups include Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
He also said Syrian civilians were subject to two forms of terrorism: “The terrorism of Bashar Assad or the terrorism of Daesh,” in reference to the ISIS group.
A video of his speech was leaked by opposition delegates inside the meeting and obtained by The Associated Press.
Alloush also reiterated the call for consolidating a Russian-backed ceasefire agreement announced late last month.
On Sunday, war planes bombed rebel-held areas of western Syria, killing 12 people in one location, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, while insurgent shelling of Aleppo killed six.
“The ceasefire is clinically dead, but the Russians and Turks want to keep it alive to send a message to the international community that they are the ones in charge of the Syrian situation,” said Observatory director Rami Abdulrahman.
More than 310,000 people have been killed and more than half of Syria’s population displaced since the start of the nearly six-year conflict.