Syrian opposition cautiously welcomes UN cease-fire plan
But for more support from the West, the Syrian opposition needs to overcome divisions and squabbling that were on full display at a major Istanbul meeting today.
Syria's divided opposition is cautiously welcoming envoy Kofi Annan's cease-fire plan, accepted by Syria's government today, even as it struggles to find unity after a year of popular revolt and bloodshed.Skip to next paragraph
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But it was not immediately clear if the exiled opposition leadership would now agree to sit down for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of "an inclusive, Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," as spelled out in the agreement brokered by Mr. Annan on behalf of the United Nations.
Nearly eight months after the Syrian National Council (SNC) was formed to spearhead the political effort to unseat Mr. Assad, it is marred by infighting and roundly criticized for doing little to help back home, where more than 9,000 have been killed in the one-year uprising.
"The performance of the [SNC] is very weak ... No money has gone inside [Syria], and no weapons and not even medicine," says opposition member Orouba Barakat, who says she sold her inheritance of gold for the cause, and knows of others who sold cars and other belongings to fund the revolt.
"It comes from our own pockets, and our pockets are very limited," she adds. Money has been wasted on poor and inoperative weapons. She says the revolution needs Western support "to get the right weapons," as well as the creation of a buffer zone – as now under consideration by Turkey – "just to breathe."
Biggest Syrian opposition meeting yet
Ms. Barakat was speaking on the sidelines of an Istanbul meeting today that brought together the widest array of Syrian opposition parties to date. The aim was to end infighting, bridge differences, and present a united vision of a democratic, post-Assad future before an international "Friends of Syria" conference convenes here on April 1.
As many as 300 opposition leaders and activists met at a secluded Istanbul hotel, from which journalists were barred entry. The leaders were invited by Turkey and Qatar, which have both strongly challenged the legitimacy of Assad's rule.
The opposition has demanded that the Syrian president step down and end more than 40 years of Assad family rule. Annan's cease-fire plan stops far short of that, but it has the endorsement of the UN Security Council, including China and Russia – a key arms supplier to Assad's regime.
The plan includes an immediate cease-fire, ending heavy weapon use in urban areas, and a daily two-hour "humanitarian pause" to deliver aid and allow for evacuations. Assad's regime today accepted the plan, but similar promises by Assad's regime, to the Arab League and others, have never been met.
"We do continue to say we need to see Bashar al-Assad step down – that will never change. For this, thousands of people have sacrificed, [so no] credible opposition can say otherwise," Bassma Kodmani, a leading member of the SNC, told Al Jazeera English in Istanbul.
"What we are saying here is, if this can open the way for a peaceful transition of power, this is what we would like to see," said Ms. Kodmani. "We have never chosen to militarize this revolution. It was peaceful and it can become peaceful again, immediately [after] the regime stops the killing."
'We don't believe they believe in the revolution'
At today's meeting, the SNC presented a draft unity manifesto that described an inclusive, democratic Syria free of tyranny. But many were still not convinced of the SNC's leadership. A veteran dissident who had been jailed by Assad's walked out in protest, as did some Kurdish members of the opposition.