Senior Syrian opposition leader quits ahead of new round of peace talks

Pictured are attendees at a previous round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva in February this year

A senior Syrian opposition leader has quit his post, a week before a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

Riyad Hijab said in a statement that he is stepping down as head of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee after two years in the post.

Hijab, a former prime minister under president Bashar Assad, did not give a reason for his decision but referred in the statement to attempts by foreign powers to carve up Syria into zones of influence "through side deals made without consulting the Syrian people," a reference to Russian-led ceasefire talks.

Hijab’s resignation comes as preparations are underway to host a two-day Syrian opposition conference in Saudi Arabia starting on Wednesday, ahead of the Geneva talks scheduled for November 28.

The resignation also comes amid intense violence in Damascus suburbs and the capital, which continued for days despite a truce brokered between the government and armed rebels by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The week-long fighting has claimed dozens of lives, as government forces conducted air strikes and shelling on the besieged eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

Rebels responded with shells, and a group of insurgents attacked a military base.

People inspecting damage from airstrikes hit in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus on November 17. Pic: Ghouta Media Center via AP

Today, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory and the Ghouta Media Centre said they documented the death of a woman and four children in Kfar Batna village in the rebel-held eastern suburb.

Eastern Ghouta suburbs have been largely under a tight blockade by pro-government forces, despite the August "de-escalation" agreement that was supposed to allow in humanitarian aid.

The UN estimates there are around 350,000 people trapped by the blockade. The recent fighting has killed at least 87 civilians in the suburbs, according to the Observatory.

Also today, the state news agency Sana said two Judo players were killed and more than 12 other players were injured, some critically, when a rebel-fired mortar round hit a sports hall where they were training in Damascus.

The agency earlier reported six people were killed, including a child, when shells hit two Damascus neighbourhoods.


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