News / Middle East

Syria Opposition Holds 'Unified' Meeting Ahead of Peace Talks

FILE - A delegation of the main Syrian opposition arrives to meet with the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
FILE - A delegation of the main Syrian opposition arrives to meet with the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.
Reuters
Disparate Syrian opposition groups, including several Islamist rebel representatives, met for the first time in the Spanish city of Cordoba to seek common ground ahead of peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government later this month.
 
After nearly three years of conflict the opposition has fractured into competing groups with different regional backers and the West is pushing to gather a unified body of opposition members to attend negotiations on Jan. 22, dubbed “Geneva 2.”
 
Prospects for progress at the talks in Switzerland appear dim. Assad, buttressed by recent military gains and a wave of rebel infighting, has flatly ruled out demands from the weakened opposition that he stand aside.
 
The two-day meeting in Spain brings together members of the Western-backed National Coalition but also delegates from opposition groups inside Syria that are tolerated by Assad as they do not call for his removal - and are therefore distrusted by many exiled opposition members.
 
“Most colors from Syria are represented here. There is even one person from Syrian security who supports Assad,” said veteran dissident Kamal Labwani.
 
At least three members of the Islamic Front had also come, he said. The front is made up of several Islamist brigades which represent a large portion of fighters on the ground and reject the authority of the National Coalition.
 
“We want them to be here. We will listen to them,” Labwani said. Differences between the delegates were too deep to bridge at the meeting, he added, but it would aim to create a dialog among them.
 
Diplomats say the gathering is recognition that the divided National Coalition - which has yet to formally accept an invitation to attend Geneva 2 - is losing influence on the ground and a more comprehensive grouping is needed ahead of the talks.
 
Rebels from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army were also at the meeting in Cordoba, a venue chosen by the Spanish government because of its historical importance as the capital of the Islamic caliphate during the Middle Ages.
 
Organizers said they did not have a complete list of attendees and some unexpected delegates had turned up.
 
A representative from Liwa al-Islam, a brigade that works with the Islamic Front, told Reuters he was attending the meeting but gave no further details of his role.
 
Opposition figure Fawaz Tello, one of the meeting's organizers, said Cordoba was prepared three months ago to encompass the “whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. To sit together and define a mutual vision”.
 
“This is not for the election of another leadership or to decide the delegates for Geneva,” he said.
 
Assad's forces have recently been gaining ground against rebel fighters backed by the opposition and he faces little pressure to make concessions. At the same time, radical Islamists distrusted by the West have taken a bigger role in the campaign to oust Assad.
 
“We are gathered here today despite our different views to try and reach a consensus that can save our people,” Sheik Mohammed al-Yacoubi, an opposition Muslim cleric, said at the start of the meeting, which will last until Friday evening.
 
Syria was plunged into civil war after an uprising against four decades of Assad family rule erupted in March 2011 and descended into an armed insurgency after the army cracked down on protests.

  • Syrian rebel fighters hold their weapons as they walk along a street in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood, Jan. 10, 2014.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter looks on as he holds the Syrian opposition flag during a protest against Syria's president and fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood, Jan. 10, 2014.
  • A boy holds bread as he walks in front of the Syrian opposition flag during a protest against Syria's president and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood, Jan. 10, 2014.
  • Bystanders look on as crews begin clearing the wreckage of a car bomb that exploded near a school in Al-Kafat, Syria, Jan. 9, 2014.
  • The remains of a car destroyed by a suicide bomb near the front of a damaged building in Al-Kafat, Jan. 9, 2014.
  • People survey the damage to a building destroyed by a suicide car bomb in Al-Kafat, Syria,  Jan. 9, 2014.
  • Damaged buildings line a deserted street in the besieged area of Homs, Jan. 9, 2014. 
  • Free Syrian Army fighters are deployed in Kadi Askar in Aleppo after they claimed that they seized it from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters prepare to launch a mortar towards fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant from a street in the Kadi Askar neighborhood of Aleppo, Jan. 7, 2014.
  • Men help a wounded boy who survived what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighborhood of Damascus, Jan. 7, 2014.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs