BEIRUT (AP) — A senior Syrian opposition leader quit his post Monday, a week before a new round of U.N.-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 cease-fire talks.
Hijab’s resignation comes as preparations are underway to host a two-day Syrian opposition conference in Saudi Arabia starting Wednesday, ahead of the Geneva talks scheduled for Nov. 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 there by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The week-long fighting has claimed dozens of lives, as government forces conducted airstrikes and shelling on the besieged eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Rebels responded with shells, and a group of insurgents attacked a military base.
On Monday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory and the Ghouta Media center 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 U.N. estimates there are around 350,000 people trapped by the blockade. The recent fighting as killed at least 87 civilians in the suburbs, according to the Observatory.
Also on Monday, The state news agency SANA said two Judo players were killed and more than 12 other players were injured, some critically, when a rebel-lobbed mortar round hit a sports hall they were training inside it in Damascus. The agency earlier reported six people were killed, including a child, when shells hit two Damascus neighborhoods.