Opposition unveils delegation for Geneva talks

The opposition bloc also called for international efforts to shore up a fragile ceasefire that went into effect in Syria in late December.

French-born jihadist and IS member Rachid Kassim, seen here in an Islamic State group propaganda video, is suspected of using the encrypted Telegram app to direct attacks on France from IS-controlled territory in Iraq or Syria

The 21-member delegation will be led by Nasr al-Hariri of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, the Higher Negotiations Committee (HNC), an opposition grouping, said late Saturday after a two-day meeting in Saudi Arabia.

Half of the delegation represents the opposition forces fighting on the ground, the HNC said in a statement.

The team will be backed by a 21-member panel of political, legal and military specialists, it added.

The call came hours after Kazakstan invited the Syrian government and rebels to meet next week in its capital Astana for talks aimed at consolidating the truce, which was brokered by Russia and Turkey.

The UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, was also invited to the Astana meeting due to start Wednesday, alongside representatives from Jordan and the U.S.

The ceasefire has significantly reduced fighting in Syria, but breaches have been reported in some parts of the country since it took effect on December 30.

The Islamic State extremist militia and al-Qaeda-linked Fatah al-Sham Front are excluded from the truce.

Syria’s conflict, which started with peaceful anti-government demonstrations in March 2011, spiralled into a full-blown war that has claimed more than 300,000 lives and driven about half the pre-war population of 22 million from their homes.

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