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Syria opposition abandons Geneva as bombs devastate market towns

Watch now: The HNC has left negotiations, though Russia insists talks 'not frozen' [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 April, 2016

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Video: Syria's main opposition bloc has begun to leave peace talks being held in Geneva, following a string of air raids targeting civilians across the war-torn country.
Syrian opposition leaders have started to leave Geneva after air raids on markets in the northwest killed at least 44 people, saying they could not take part in peace talks while civilians were dying.

The main opposition High Negotiations Committee [HNC] has condemned the strikes on Maaret al-Numan in Idlib province as a "massacre" and a clear violation of the truce.

"It is a dangerous escalation of an already fragile situation, showing contempt for the whole international community at a time when there is supposed to be a cessation of hostilities," said HNC spokesman Salem al-Meslet.

"Our decision to postpone our participation in the Geneva talks was taken to highlight the cynicism of the regime in pretending to negotiate while escalating the violence. The world must not ignore this challenge," said Meslet.

He added that the deadly raid was Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "response" to the HNC's decision to suspend its formal participation in negotiations.

Also on Tuesday, at least 11 civilians were killed in Aleppo in northern Syria.

      Regime airstrikes hit two crowded markets in Idlib [Getty]
"Warplanes believed to belong to the regime launched air raids on the rebel-held Salah al-Din district in the west of the city, killing seven people including women and children, and injuring four others," Mohammad Hussien, a volunteer with the Syria Civil Defense team, told The New Arab.

"The raids heavily damaged a school and several homes... In the district of Zabadeyeh, rocket fire from a regime stronghold killed one civilian."

Regime air raids in the Islamic State group-held al-Bab city east of Aleppo also killed three civilians and injured five others, added Hussein.

HNC coordinator Riyad Hijab said on Tuesday that he and other delegates were beginning to leave Geneva because of escalating violence, repeated ceasefire violations and the regime's refusal to discuss Assad's departure.

"I will be travelling today, along with some of my colleagues from the HNC. Some people left yesterday and today and they will keep leaving gradually until Friday," Hijab said.
Video: Earlier this week at the Geneva talks


"It is not suitable, neither morally nor on the humanitarian side, to be part of negotiations when Syrians are dying daily from sieges, hunger, bombings, poisonous gases and barrel bombs," he added.

The UN has insisted the talks have not collapsed, with its envoy Staffan de Mistura saying they would continue through the week.

The regime has brushed off the HNC's rejection and said it will hold talks with other rebel groups.

"If they want to boycott, they can boycott. It's not a big problem for us because they are not the only representatives of the Syrian opposition," said Damascus envoy Bashar Ja'afari.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also insisted the talks were "not frozen", while US State Department spokesman John Kirby added: "We continue to believe in the political process, in the importance of these talks."

This week's negotiations were meant to focus on Syria's political future, as the UN pushes a plan involving a transitional authority, a new constitution and eventual elections.

But Assad's fate has been the key sticking point, with the opposition insisting he must go - and the regime refusing to countenance his departure.

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