Member of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Mohamed Alloush of the Jaysh al Islam attends a news conference aside of Syria peace talks in Geneva, Switzerland, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse(reuters_tickers)
By Yara Abi Nader and John Irish
GENEVA (Reuters) - The main opposition group at Syrian peace talks in Geneva wants to meet Russian envoys to discuss what it says are Moscow's broken ceasefire promises, a move diplomats say aims to put pressure on the Russian-backed Syrian government delegation.
Russia has sought to revive diplomacy since its air force helped the Syrian army and allied militias defeat rebels in Aleppo in December, President Bashar al-Assad's biggest victory in six years of war.
Despite the announcement of a ceasefire, a weekend of bombings and air strikes in Syria has rattled the talks that began in Geneva last week.
"The Russians did not fulfil a ceasefire agreement despite the promises from the highest levels of the Russian delegation," Mohammed Alloush, a negotiator and member of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, told Reuters.
Alloush said opposition negotiators sought a meeting with Russian foreign ministry officials later on Monday, but another opposition delegate later said the meting had been pushed back to Tuesday. A diplomat, who did not confirm the date, said it could include Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and Middle East director Sergei Vershinin.
Russia, Turkey and Iran have sponsored parallel talks, in the Kazakh capital Astana, to reinforce the shaky ceasefire that paved the way for a resumption of U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva, the first U.N.-led mediation effort in 10 months.
But violence has continued and the warring sides have traded blame while appearing no closer to actual negotiations. U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura said a militant attack in Homs on Saturday was a deliberate attempt to wreck the talks.
"The opposition wants to see the Russians to tell them to put pressure on the government or else this process will lead nowhere," said a Western diplomat.
He said the Syrian government chief negotiator Bashar al-Ja'afari's refusal to discuss anything beyond countering terrorism at a weekend meeting with de Mistura was a clear indication that Damascus was not committed.
De Mistura, who is treading carefully to keep the talks alive, has so far talked to the two sides separately. He meets the opposition later on Monday, before hosting the government on Tuesday as he tries to forge an understanding of how to proceed in future rounds.
Russia and the United States were the prime movers behind the last peace talks, which halted as the war heated up, but the United States is now taking a diplomatic back seat. Its military support for Assad's opponents has also been far more tentative than Moscow's direct military intervention on Assad's side.
Alloush said the opposition also wanted to discuss the humanitarian situation and tell the Russians that the Geneva talks should focus on a real political transition "and not constitution, nor the terms that Mr de Mistura has mentioned."
He was referring to a working plan handed by de Mistura to the delegations that said the talks agenda would be based on Security Council resolution 2254, with focus on a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections and accountable governance.
(Additional reporting Issam Abdallah and and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Dominic Evans)