As critical negotiations begin, UNICEF reports 80 percent of Syrian children have been harmed by the five-year war.
The United Nations special envoy for Syria has said that peace talks are progressing calmly, though the opposition said it wants a more high-level negotiating team than the one the government is currently fielding.
“The good news is that I believe the proximity talks have clearly contributed to keeping the talks going with no walk outs, no excessive rhetoric, some discussions but no break downs,” the UN’s Staffan de Mistura said, referring to a method of talks in which the opposing sides do not meet each other face-to-face.
“I am still obviously detecting large distances but that is why we have talks and negotiations,” he told journalists after meeting both sides in Geneva on Friday.
But Salem al-Muslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) opposition bloc, told Al Jazeera that the government’s chief negotiator at the talks, Bashar al-Jaafari, was not fit for the job.
Other members of the HNC said he was engaged in delaying tactics and was not serious about debating any agreement that involved a political transition.
“Jaafari doesn’t have a decision there,” Muslet said. “We need a higher rank team … a team that can make a decision right here in Geneva because we can make a decision on behalf of our people.”
Earlier on Friday, Basma Kodmani, an opposition negotiator and HNC member, said the opposition intended to stick with the negotiations for now.
“We will wage the political fight until we reach the goals of our revolution,” she said. “Our hope is that on the 6th anniversary of the revolution next year we would move on to the reconstruction phase and a democratic Syrian state.”
‘Useful and constructive’
Jaafari, who is also the Syrian ambassador to the UN, said on Friday that his meeting with de Mistura was useful, constructive and that practical steps were discussed to help open the door to more dialogue.
“We believe that adopting the principles we called the basic elements will lead to a serious intra-Syrian dialogue that helps in building the future of our country.
“These principles will open the door for a serious Syrian-Syrian dialogue led by Syria without foreign interference or preconditions,” Jaafari said.
Fighting in Syria has slowed since a fragile “cessation of hostilities agreement” brokered by the US and Russia came into force almost two weeks ago. But a peace deal and full ceasefire remain elusive.
The major sticking point is the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, who Western and Gulf Arab governments say must go at the end of a transition period envisioned under a roadmap hammered out in Vienna last year by major powers.
In Syria on Friday, at least 17 people, including eight children, were killed and 20 people wounded in suspected government air strikes in Raqqa province, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently , a website that reports on life in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL, also known as ISIS) self-proclaimed capital, said the strikes had targeted residential areas in Raqqa city.
The Syrian war has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced almost half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.
Additonal reporting by Whitney Hurst in Geneva.