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May 25, 2013

Leadership Questions Could Hamper Syria Peace Talks

by Dorian Jones

Next month's Washington - Moscow talks to end the Syrian conflict appear in doubt.  The Syrian opposition, at a meeting in Istanbul, remains divided on electing new leadership and it is still unclear if the opposition will attend the talks. 

Western backers of the opposition are pushing for a broader and more diverse leadership.  But attempts to weaken the power of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian National Coalition have so far failed.  The outgoing chairman of the coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, made an appeal for unity.

"We say at the end, we must cooperate with our people, with Syrians, who are under very, very hard circumstances to save our country," he said.

The spokesman for the opposition coalition, Khaled Saleh, said progress was being made.

Source of disagreement

But the current deadlock over who should lead and speak for the opposition has put next month's talks in doubt.

Russia had announced Friday that, in principle, the Damascus government said it would attend the peace talks.

But with the Syrian opposition remaining leaderless, its participation is unclear.  A European diplomat, speaking on the sidelines of the current Istanbul meeting, said it would be unthinkable if the opposition did not attend, but acknowledged new opposition leadership needs to be installed.

Some opposition members have accused Western countries of interfering in the leadership process. The ongoing talks in Istanbul, which will continue Sunday and Monday, are expected to see further efforts to reach a compromise and make a final decision on whether to go ahead with next month's peace conference, which is aimed at ending the bloody civil war that has wracked Syria for more than two years.

Syria violence intensifies

But as the deliberations continue, the fighting in Syria continues to intensify.  Senior opposition Member George Sabra warned of the current escalation in combat.

Sabra says thousands of Iranian and Iranian-backed militia groups are entering Syria from Lebanon to fight for the Assad regime.  And he said the world remains silent.

Sabra called on rebel forces to unite and provide assistance to those forces currently under siege, including those in the town of Qusair on the Lebanese border.  Syrian activists say Saturday saw some of heaviest fighting as the regime seeks to take the strategic town.