• Opposition leader Hijab says talks need a `healthy atmosphere'
  • Hijab says Assad, allies are breaking Syria cease-fire daily

Syria’s main opposition group criticized what it described as daily cease-fire violations by government forces and their allies, and said it’s not yet ready to commit to the next round of peace talks due to start in Geneva this week.

The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee will decide in the “coming days” on whether to take part in the talks, group head Riad Hijab told reporters on a conference call on Monday. He also called for more aid to reach besieged and hard-to-reach areas of Syria.

“The first of the two priorities is the humanitarian one -- the delivery of aid,” Hijab said. “The second thing is for Russia to follow through on its commitment to put pressure on Syria and its allies to respect the cease-fire and stop hostilities against civilians.”

Russia and the U.S. brokered a cease-fire that took effect on February 27 in an effort to breathe new life into the stalled peace process. The United Nations, which suspended talks between the Syrian authorities and opposition in January after a major Russian-backed government offensive, aims to begin a new round of negotiations on March 10.

‘Massacre’

Russia, whose military intervention in Syria has shored up President Bashar al-Assad, said Monday that the cease-fire is being largely observed and that its airstrikes are only targeting Islamic State and the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front, both of whom are exempt from the truce.

Hijab rejected that view and accused Russian and Syrian government warplanes of carrying out a “massacre” in the key rebel-held city of Aleppo that he said killed dozens of people on Monday. Opposition forces are committing only minor violations of the cease-fire in self-defense, he said.

A resumption of the talks requires a “healthy atmosphere,” Hijab said.

Syria’s five-year war has killed a quarter-million people and triggered a mass exodus of refugees, as well as providing a base for terrorist groups including Islamic State.

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