ABU DHABI // Russia has agreed that two Syrian rebel groups it considers terrorist organisations can participate in peace talks “on an individual basis”, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
Moscow had previously opposed the participation of Jaish Al Islam and Ahrar Al Sham in the UN-hosted talks between the Syrian regime and opposition in Geneva.
Mr Lavrov made clear, however, that Russia still considers both as “terrorist groups”.
“This does not mean that this is an acknowledgement of Jaish Al Islam and Ahrar Al Sham as two legitimate partners in the negotiations,” he said alongside UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed after meeting with him and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi.
“We agreed and the government delegation agreed with us, that if they are to participate in the negotiations process, they will do so in a private capacity.”
Mr Lavrov added that “many parties” in the International Syrian Support Group also consider Jaish Al Islam and Ahrar Al Sham, two of the most militarily powerful groups on the ground in Syria, to be terrorist in nature.
Mohamed Alloush, Jaish Al Islam’s political leader, is the chief negotiator for the High Negotiations Committee, a group formed in Riyadh in December to represent a coalition of armed and political Syrian opposition groups. The HNC is backed by Saudi Arabia as the main representative of the opposition at the Geneva talks.
Talks between the two sides began on Monday after the HNC initially refused to attend, saying that the Syrian regime must first halt attacks on civilians, release prisoners and end sieges on rebel-controlled areas where thousands face starvation.
Mr Alloush arrived in Geneva on Monday, but said he was not hopeful about the talks.
“Nothing has changed in the situation on the ground. So as long as the situation is like this we are not optimistic,” he said. “There are no good intentions from the regime’s side to reach a solution.”