Officials in Syria have announced they are ready to participate in peace talks in Geneva, but will not attend if the UN also invites the opposition.
Syria has been involved in a five-year civil war that has left over 250,000 people dead and displaced millions more.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem met with UN envoy Staffan de Mistura in Damascus, where he “stressed the need to see the names of the Syrian opposition figures who will take part.”
President Bashar al-Assad and his allies consider anyone against the regime a terrorist.
Both sides agreed to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered “to an opposition-held town” because people are dying of starvation. Opposition member George Sabra said the town of Madaya have lost 23 people due to starvation.
“The issue of Madaya has become a key point. The Syrian government cannot go to negotiations while Syrians are dying of hunger and cold,” he declared. “If the U.N. cannot deliver a food basket to Madaya, then how can we believe that the U.N. will lead a political solution?”
Syrians have flooded social media with pictures of starved children and the elderly in Madaya. The opposition also aimed their fury at Hezbollah, which is an Assad ally. They accuse the Shiite terrorist group “of perpetrating what Madaya residents have described as a nightmare.”
“Both date and time have been set. Aid will go to three towns on Monday morning, all at the same time,” explained one source.
Hezbollah and Syrian officials claim the photos are fake. They also insist the rebels are holding the civilians hostage and not allowing them to leave the city.
As the meeting took place, Russian planes bombed Maarat al-Numan, located 176 miles north of Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the attack killed 57 people and hit a courthouse and prison.
This is not the first time Syrian officials have agreed to peace talks in the UN. On December 23, Assad claimed his regime would join UN-sponsored peace talks. Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political and media adviser, said the officials “approved of U.N. resolutions passed last week.” Al Arabiya reports:
The resolutions gave U.N. blessing to a plan negotiated earlier in Vienna that calls for a ceasefire, talks between the Syrian government and opposition, and a roughly two-year timeline to create a unity government and hold elections.
Shaaban said Damascus perceived a softening of the West’s stance on Assad driven by a spillover of Islamic State militant attacks into its own communities – most recently in Paris on Nov. 13 when shootings and suicide bombings killed 130 people.