Syria’s main opposition group met for key talks in Istanbul on Thursday to debate whether to join a new US-Russian peace initiative to end the two-year civil war, while the regime vowed to crush the insurgency.
Holding its seventh general assembly meeting since its creation last November, the National Coalition is expected to choose a new president, discuss incorporating new members and decide the fate of an interim rebel government, opponents said.
The three-day meeting comes as rebels face a massive onslaught by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah in the insurgent bastion of Al-Qusayr, central Syria.
Since the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011, more than 90,000 people have been killed.
The opponents’ meeting begins a day after backers of the anti-Assad uprising during a meeting in Amman pledged more assistance to the opposition should the regime fail to commit to a peaceful political transition.
During Wednesday’s meeting in Amman, the Friends of Syria group also tried to agree the contours of a peace conference to end the war.
The opposition has long held that it can only enter into talks with members of the regime if negotiations are guaranteed to lead to the fall of Assad’s regime.
While Assad has repeatedly said the Syrian war can only end with a political solution, state news agency SANA hinted Thursday the regime may defy the US-Russian push for peace.
“Having proclaimed themselves spokesmen for the Syrian people, participants [in the Amman meeting] have blocked the road towards the holding of an international conference” for peace, said SANA, in reference to the meeting dubbed Geneva 2 proposed by the United States and Russia.
“The enemies of Syria have clearly announced they will confiscate the Syrians’ right to carve out their country’s political future and to end the crisis through a political solution”, SANA added.
Also on Thursday, Assad reportedly told a Tunisian delegation he was determined to crush the rebellion “and those who support it regionally and globally”, SANA said.
The opposition’s ambassador in France Monzer Makhous said SANA’s dismissal of the Friends of Syria meet was “a sign” that the regime may reject the Geneva 2 proposal.
“It is not an official refusal, but it is a sign. SANA would never provide any information that does not reflect the government’s position,” Makhous told AFP.
“I feel it is unlikely that this conference [Geneva 2] would be able to reach a real solution to the Syrian crisis — not because the opposition would not want that, but because the regime does not want that,” he added.
Makhous said the Geneva 2 proposal would see the entry of a transitional government bringing together regime and opposition representatives, and that it would take over full powers in Syria for a time.
“Bashar (al-Assad) would be out of the equation, and the transitional government would be in charge of the security and military files.
“Anyone capable of analysis can see that the Syrian regime would not accept this equation, though it is the least the opposition is willing to accept,” Makhous said.
Meanwhile other Coalition members expressed reservations over Geneva 2.
“We don’t have a list of attendees, we don’t know what countries are going to attend, what’s the agenda, what’s being proposed, what are the final goals,” Coalition spokesman Khaled al-Saleh told reporters.
Another Coalition member told AFP on condition of anonymity the Geneva 2 proposal “is the same piece of hashish the international community gives us every time. They lure us into thinking the end is nigh, and then it just continues”.
With a vast onslaught on Al-Qusayr leaving scores dead in the past week, Assad appears as far as ever from giving up.
In an interview with an Argentinian newspaper this month, Assad implied he would stay until the next scheduled election in 2014.
“The regime and its backers are trying to change the situation on the ground militarily, in order to gain the upper hand in negotiations… This is costing the Syrians blood,” Coalition member Samir Nashar told AFP.
In Istanbul, dissidents are also seeking to name a new Coalition president to replace Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, who resigned in March, as well as three new vice presidents and a new secretary general.
The opposition is seeking to establish a rebel government under interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto, while discussing the group’s expansion to include 31 new members, Saleh said.
Should Hitto’s proposal fail to win the Coalition’s confidence, “he may be given a second or a third chance”, the spokesman added.
AFP - 05/23/2013