About two dozen groups have threatened to back out of the Geneva peace talks over failure to put an end to the prolonged conflict in Syria. The Syrian groups, enlisted with the United Nations, wrote to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that there is no meaning in their continued participation if the talks have not offered Syrians any peace or protection.

"Instead, while we were asked to talk peace in Geneva, the civilians we represent were bombed in Syria," the Associated Press quoted the NGOs as saying. The 24 signatory groups have called on the UN to take immediate steps to protect civilians. This includes effectively establishing a "no-fly bombing zone for all of Syria".

The conflict, which is in its sixth year, has killed more than 250,000 people.

The groups have urged Ban to cordon off all towns in Syria and to enable air-dropping of aid to civilians in need, "irrespective of Syrian regime consent". The UN is reported to have agreed to the request.

The letter said: "If the international community cannot even protect our ability to serve and assist Syrian society, our presence in Geneva is not only meaningless, it is unnecessary.

"If a serious mechanism to protect our civilians and enforce the cessation of hostilities is not developed and implemented, we fear it will be impossible for our organisations to continue our participation in the Geneva talks," the group added. They said they want "just peace, and not just a peace process".

The letter has been copied to US Secretary of State John Kerry and the British and French foreign ministers too, as the group believes they are "the powers that have the means to implement a policy aimed at protecting Syrian lives".

The organisations have also appealed to the UN chief to call on member states to either consider a special court or an international jurisdiction to try war crime suspects in Syria. They supported Ban's idea of getting the International Criminal Court involved in Syria, an idea which was rejected by both Russia and China in May 2014.

Aleppo airstrikes
People gather on a heavily damaged street following reported air strikes by government forces in the rebel-held Shaar neighbourhood of the northern city Aleppo [File photo] Thaer Mohammed/ AFP