Syrian opposition says no peace talks until Hezbollah, Iran halt fighting

Syrian opposition says no peace talks until Hezbollah, Iran halt fighting

Sevil Küçükkoşum / Sevim Songün Demirezen ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News
Syrian opposition says no peace talks until Hezbollah, Iran halt fighting

Opposition acting chief George Sabra makes a public statement in Istanbul on May 30. AA Photo

Syria’s main opposition group said today it would not take part in proposed U.S.-Russia peace talks, a day after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu participated in their Istanbul meeting.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria,” the opposition acting chief George Sabra told reporters in Istanbul today, according to Agence France-Presse.

In addition to the question of participation in the proposed Geneva conference, the election of a new president, the agreeing on an interim government and the voting in of new members to join the group were the other main reasons for the gathering in Istanbul.

The minister addressed the opposition on behalf of the 11 core group members of Friends of Syria, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News ahead of his meeting on May 29.

The move came as a joint initiative of the members of the core group of the Friends of Syria, as the opposition’s meeting has been stalled for six days as of May 29, since the group failed to agree on any of the key talking points including participation in the proposed Geneva conference.

“Putting pressure on the Syrian opposition or imposing a specific formula is out of the question,” the diplomat added. “On the contrary, the minister will express our absolute support, that we’ll support any decision they would take and we’d like to see outcomes of this gathering as soon as possible.”

“These 11 states do not have different agendas, and the decisions are made by Syrians,” the same diplomat told the Daily News, referring to the members of the core group and underlining that the joint will of the core group stood for a “united and solid Syrian opposition.”

Former French Ambassador to Damascus Eric Chevalier, U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford, and Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Salman bin Sultan also participated in the meeting.

Hours after Davutoğlu’s visit to the meeting venue, the group released a joint statement clarifying a number of conditions for the international community, including a particular demand that the negotiations should lead to the stepping down of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Syrian [National] Coalition welcomes international efforts to find a political solution to the suffering Syrians have endured for over two years,” said the main opposition group. The Coalition also stipulated that “the head of the regime, security and military leadership [...] step down and be excluded from the political process.”

Rebels give ultimatum to SNC

The Syrian rebels on the ground have given an ultimatum to the SNC to decide whether or not to expand to represent the “revolutionary forces on the ground.”

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) had given a deadline of only 24 hours, which was set to be extended as of yesterday afternoon, to decide whether to agree on an expansion that would include representatives of the rebels.

“They [SNC] don’t want to give chairs to revolutionary forces on the ground. We gave them 24 hours to represent the revolutionary forces on the ground,” Louay al-Mokdad, political and media coordinator of the FSA, told the Daily News yesterday.

“We are giving them time to change their mind. We want real steps from the Coalition and to work only for the Syrian revolution and the Syrian people,” said al-Mokdad, describing some of the Coalition members as “selfish.”

“Some people inside the Syrian Coalition are selfish, sorry to say that. They are fighting for their chairs and their powers inside the Coalition, instead of for the Syrian people and the Syrian revolutionaries on the ground,” he added.

Four Syrian fighter groups, known as the Revolutionary Movement in Syria, also said in a statement yesterday that the “Syrian Coalition has failed to fulfill its responsibility to represent the great Syrian people’s revolution.” The groups’ statement added that they wanted to have “no fewer than 50 percent of the seats in the Coalition and its leadership bureaus.”

Both sides were holding meetings on how to solve this crisis.

The SNC could not agree on the names to expand toward in its meeting in Istanbul, which started on May 23 and was extended until this week. It is stuck between the western powers, which expect a response as to whether the group will attend the international meeting, widely called “Geneva 2,” and the recent demands of rebel fighters on the ground.

Abdulbaset Seida, a member of the SNC, told the Daily News that they were discussing whether to expand more to include more people from inside Syria, in response to the rebel forces’ statements.

“We are discussing the alternatives, what we can do to make them [rebel fighters] a part of the Coalition. We have partly made our extension and have eight new members. But it is better for the revolution if we can take some people from inside Syria,” said Seida.