Beirut: Syrian rebels said President Bashar Al Assad's opponents are under international pressure to make concessions that would prolong the conflict, underscoring their doubts about a new UN-led drive for peace talks planned to begin this month.
An opposition council that met UN envoy Staffan de Mistura this week was under pressure "to offer concessions that will prolong the suffering of our people and the spilling of their blood", a statement signed by prominent rebel groups said.
The opposition council of rebels and Assad's political opponents was set up last month to oversee negotiations, which are envisaged as part of a new effort to settle the five-year-long war that has killed 250,000 people.
The rebels, including groups represented in the council, said they would not accept any concessions that run counter to "the principles of our revolution" and condemned what it called international connivance "against the revolution".
Opposition leaders told de Mistura the government must take goodwill steps before any negotiations by halting bombardments of civilian areas, lifting blockades of rebel-held areas and releasing detainees. They are waiting to hear back from him.
The diplomatic drive follows the December 18 adoption of a UN Security Council resolution endorsing an international plan for a Syria peace process. The plan was backed by both the United States and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict.
It includes a nationwide ceasefire and six months of talks beginning in January between Assad's government and the opposition on forming a unity government.
But the rebel statement underlines the opposition's growing concern about the process, including the absence of any mention of Assad's future - a major point of contention between countries on either side of the conflict.
De Mistura, who plans to begin the talks on January 25, arrived in Damascus on Friday.
Meanwhile, the European Union welcomed Assad's decision to allow humanitarian access to the town of Madaya, and called for a halt to all attacks on civilians in the conflict.
The blockade of Madaya, near the border with Lebanon, has become a focal issue for Assad's opponents.
"The decision of the Syrian regime to allow humanitarian access in Madaya is a first step in the right direction," Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, and the bloc's Commissioner for Humanitarian aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, said in a joint statement on Friday.
"The European Union welcomes it and expects it will be fully implemented and extended by all parties to all the cities under siege."
Mogherini and Stylianides echoed the call of the new Syrian opposition group and said, "It will be important to implement concrete confidence building measures in support of the upcoming intra-Syrian political talks scheduled to start at the end of January: an end to attacks on civilians, to aerial bombardments and sieges of civilian areas."