Syria opposition says supports two-week truce to test other side's commitment

BEIRUT/GENEVA (Reuters) - Syria’s opposition indicated on Wednesday it was ready for a two-week truce to test the seriousness of the other side’s commitment to a U.S.-Russian plan for a cessation of hostilities.

A statement obtained by Reuters from the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee said it “views a temporary two-week truce as a chance to establish how serious the other side is in committing to the points of the agreement.”

The United States and Russia this week announced a plan to halt fighting, giving combatants until noon on Friday (1000 GMT) to say whether they would agree to the “cessation of hostilities”, which would begin on Saturday.

The HNC welcomed the plan, but outlined a detailed list of criticisms it said must be addressed before any truce could work.

It objected to Russia being a guarantor of the truce alongside the United States, saying Russia was a direct party to the conflict, and that the plan ignored the role Damascus allies Russia and Iran were playing.

Russia intervened in the conflict on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in September, and Iranian fighters have provided crucial support to the Syrian army in its fight against insurgents.

The HNC also said the plan gave Moscow and Damascus the right to continue targeting “terrorist” groups in a way that allowed them to interpret U.N. classifications of terrorists according to their own agenda - which would result in their bombing other non-jihadist rebel groups represented in the wider opposition.

Moscow and Washington said the cessation of hostilities would exclude groups classified as terrorists, such as Islamic State and the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The opposition has already expressed fears government forces backed by the Russian air force will continue to attack rebels under the pretext of targeting the Nusra Front.

Russian warplanes have hit Islamic State but have mostly targeted other rebel groups including Western-backed insurgents.

The HNC criticized the Russian-American plan for ignoring opposition factions’ need to defend themselves against “terrorist” groups, without specifying which groups those were.

It referred at the beginning of the statement to Islamic State, Nusra Front as well as Hezbollah, Iraqi and Afghan Shi’ite militias as “terrorist and extremist.”

Lebanese Hezbollah and Shi’ite militias are fighting on the Syrian government side.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Editing by Peter Cooney