Subscribe

Lack of unity threatens Syrian opposition

Officials in the Middle East say talks between the Syrian opposition and President Bashar al-Assad are likely to be pushed back to July. The opposition is struggling to bring together a diverse coalition. Even so, the group does agree Assad must leave power in order to resolve the conflict.

  • close
    A general view shows buildings that were damaged during clashes between with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Free Syrian Army fighters in Damascus May 27, 2013. The opposition coalition is struggling to elect new leadership ahead of anticipated peace talks.
    REUTERS/ Alaa Al-Marjani
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

The Syrian opposition said on Wednesday it would only take part in planned international peace talks if a deadline was set for a settlement that forces President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.

In its first official reaction to the Geneva conference being prepared by the United States and Russia, the opposition coalition adopted a declaration calling for "binding international guarantees" for any resolution of Syria's two-year-old conflict.

The statement, issued after seven days of meetings riven by internal dispute, demanded "the removal of the head of the regime and the security and military command".

Recommended:Opinion Five things international community must give Syria after Bashar al-Assad

The talks have been marred by disagreement within the coalition over expanding its membership and appointing a new leadership. Lack of unity has threatened to rob the Islamist-dominated alliance of international support.

The 60-member coalition has so far failed to agree on the wider involvement of a liberal opposition bloc, to the dismay of Western and some Arab backers keen to reduce Islamist influence.

Further evidence of dissent among the rebels emerged on Wednesday when opposition groups in Syria accused their counterparts in exile of undermining the rebellion and lacking legitimacy.

Dismayed by the "ongoing discord", a statement by four leading opposition groups in Syria dismissed attempts to expand the coalition as having "no real impact on the revolution" and said at least half the coalition's leadership bodies should be made of "revolutionary forces".

The statement, issued in the name of the Revolutionary Movement in Syria, said it could not "bestow legitimacy upon any political body that subverts the revolution".

The coalition's failure to agree even the basic structure of its membership bodes ill for a unified stance on the peace talks, which aim to agree a transitional government and an end to a conflict that has killed 80,000 people.

'Daunting realization'

"There is a daunting realisation that the opposition has to get its act together before Geneva, otherwise the Assad team will run rings around us," a senior opposition coalition source at the talks in Istanbul said.

Diplomats say the Geneva talks could be held in mid-June, but officials in the Middle East say they will be pushed back to July.

Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, said his country had no preconditions for attending although it had yet to decide who would represent it.

While the opposition coalition has bickered in Istanbul, Assad's forces have been pressing a fierce counter-offensive on the ground in Syria.

Backed by Hezbollah -- said by French intelligence to have provided up to 4,000 fighters -- Assad's army is fighting to dislodge rebels from a stronghold on the Lebanese border.

His troops have already pushed back rebels in the southern province of Deraa and retaken some outlying areas east of Damascus, consolidating their hold from the capital up to the coastal heartlands of his minority Alawite sect.

Syrian state television said government forces had seized an air base near the town of Qusair on Wednesday.

Russia, which has shielded Assad diplomatically since the Syrian uprising erupted in March 2011, says it will deliver an advanced S-300 air defence system despite U.S. and French objections, saying it would deter "hotheads" intent on foreign intervention.

In Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to call on Syria to halt its unlawful attacks on civilians in rebel-held Qusair, but the resolution highlighted deep divisions among powers ahead of the planned peace talks.

The U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, earlier urged countries not to supply Syria with weapons and to seek a political end to the war.

Divided opposition 

Assad's opponents have suffered from deep-seated rifts since the start of the uprising. The opposition in exile has little influence over activists on the ground, while the only authority that Syrian army defectors in Turkey and Jordan have over the hundreds of rebel brigades scattered across Syria stems from their ability to channel weapons from abroad.

Ideological differences between Islamists and nationalists are exacerbated by conflicting ambitions of backers as diverse as the Gulf Arab monarchies, the United States and Europe.

At the heart of the stalemate in Istanbul is a rivalry between regional backers of the rebels centred around Qatar, which supports the Islamist coalition members, and Saudi Arabia, which is wary of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

The addition of a liberal bloc of more than 20 seats, led by Christian opposition campaigner Michel Kilo, had been intended to ease the Islamist grip over the coalition. Kilo has so far been offered just five seats.

International envoys sought to break the impasse in Istanbul, with Saudi Prince Salman bin Sultan meeting Kilo to discuss his demands for representation.

If a deal is not struck, coalition insiders say the liberal wing will not participate in peace talks, further threatening the ability of the coalition to speak for the opposition.

The coalition had meant to discuss a new leadership in Istanbul, including the fate of provisional Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto, who has not been able to form a provisional government in exile since being appointed on March 19.

George Sabra, the acting head of the coalition, appeared intent on dropping the membership issue and proceeding to electing a new leadership. But other senior opposition officials said such a move would only deepen divisions.

"If they go ahead with choosing a new leadership, they are setting the stage for a war between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and nobody wants this," one of the officials said.

(Additional reporting by Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Will Waterman and Giles Elgood)

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK