News / Middle East

    Syrian Opposition Admits Liberals to Anti-Assad Coalition

    FILE - George Sabra, a veteran Christian opposition figure and acting President of the Syrian National Coalition, speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, May 13, 2013.
    FILE - George Sabra, a veteran Christian opposition figure and acting President of the Syrian National Coalition, speaks during a news conference in Istanbul, May 13, 2013.
    Reuters
    Syria's opposition, under pressure to broaden its Islamist-dominated leadership, struggled to overcome deep rifts on Thursday and form a united front for a proposed international conference to try to end the Syrian war.
     
    Delegates at talks in Istanbul agreed to add 14 members of a liberal bloc led by veteran figure Michel Kilo to the 60-member assembly of the Syrian National Coalition, the closest body that Assad's foes have to an overall civilian leadership in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
     
    That partial breakthrough followed seven days of talks and required the intervention of Turkey and Western and Arab nations. They fear that unless deep fissures in the opposition ranks are healed, the chances of a successful Geneva peace conference soon, sponsored by Russia and the United States, are slight.
     
    But many hurdles remain in the process to choose new leaders for a coalition that has been rudderless since March and to name a provisional government that could strengthen what are now weak links with rebel units inside Syria.
     
    A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said there was no deal yet but the coalition was working on one and Washington was “hopeful that the opposition will vote to elect leadership and to come to a conclusion on how they will expand their membership”.
     
    “We ... expect when they make their final decisions we will be able to work with those leadership members and move forward in planning the Geneva conference,” she said.
     
    The coalition is controlled by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and a faction loyal to Mustafa al-Sabbagh, a businessman who has been Qatar's point man for channeling financial and armed support to the opposition.
     
    Thursday's announcement would give Kilo's bloc 14 seats, short of the 25 he had demanded, and also add more allies of Sabbagh's and other factions to the assembly. It has yet to be finalized.
     
    Kilo sounded optimistic. “We have reached an agreement. I think we need some time to prepare before we embark on the leadership selection process,” he said.

    Vote delayed
     
    But a formal vote to approve Kilo's bloc entry was delayed late on Thursday and negotiations stretched into another night.
     
    A member of the Sabbagh bloc said: “Internal procedures must be respected and Kilo cannot be allowed to shove his way into the coalition.”
     
    Sabbagh and Kilo are also negotiating the admission of 14 other members of activists' groups inside Syria and finding a neutral mechanism to choose them.
     
    Agreement has yet to be reached on Free Syrian Army demands to be represented in the coalition, coalition sources said.
     
    The shape of the new coalition, if it is formalized, could lessen the dominant influence of Qatar and give Saudi Arabia more influence in opposition politics as Riyadh backs the Kilo  bid and improves its ties with the brotherhood.
     
    Lebanese Shi'ite guerrillas from Iranian-backed Hezbollah are openly fighting alongside government forces in Syria. Opposition sources say Saudi Arabia is keen to play a greater role in backing the Sunni-led opposition against Assad, who belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s.
     
    Kilo, a multi-lingual, soft-spoken former political prisoner, came out of the meeting room accompanied by a senior official of the Muslim Brotherhood, which lent de facto support to Kilo in the haggling over the expansion of the assembly.
     
    The Brotherhood has good links with Qatar and is also influenced by Turkey which gave Brotherhood members fleeing President Hafez al-Assad's repression refuge in the 1980s.
     
    Kamal al-Labwani, a maverick member of the coalition, said a rapprochement between the liberal and Islamist wing of the opposition could help it undercut Russian attempts to have figures among the representatives of the opposition at Geneva who are willing to allow Assad to stay in power.
     
    “It is very dangerous to allow an opposition delegation to go to Geneva without sticking to the goals of the revolution, or accept an early ceasefire under the excuse that the people are tired, without guarantees that the regime will depart,” Labwani said.
     
    “An incomplete peace that awards a de facto pardon to Bashar and his cohorts will be far more costly than a continuation of the war.”  

    Related report by Zlatica Hoke:

    Syria's Opposition Demands Deadline for Assad to Leavei
    X
    May 30, 2013 11:14 AM
    Syria's opposition is demanding a deadline for Bashar al-Assad to leave power if it is to attend proposed international peace talks. Meeting in Istanbul Wednesday, opposition leaders said they want "binding international guarantees," including what they call the "removal of the head of the regime" and its military command. But the embattled president remains defiant, insisting he will remain Syria's leader at least until the 2014 elections and that he may run for another term. Zlatica Hoke has more.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anonymous
    June 01, 2013 10:01 PM
    Meenwhile today U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that all parties will be held accountable for atrocities committed against civilians in Qusair.

    Why the hell isnt there a warrant for Bashar al Assad?

    by: gig24
    May 31, 2013 11:15 AM
    Russia staging large war,that's why eg Mr Putin did not have the courage for 3 hrs to see Mr Kerry, that's why Ministre Marshal Sergiao had to say in aninterview about AAA to Assad " I don't know,I am not in charge of shipment" ,he knew exactly what russian's war plan is and what volume of Armada makes its way to the middle east via Bosporus canal southbound (see livecam on turkishnavy.net) They lie to Assad, they lie via China to KIM JUNG-UN . That's why he was tricked to say march2013 he would launch nuclear attacks to USA and SK.- In Korea and ME , it s the Russians/china who stage a worldwar , using these 5 frontmens: Amadinashad,KimJung-UN,Hizbollah,Taliban,Assad.

    Amadinashad has trained his professionals in Russia long ago on Mig29 aircrafts , on S300 AAA , and all vehicles/guns now on the way into staging areas, and also including US Arsenal sitting in Kuwait.

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    May 30, 2013 2:10 PM
    All external forces must be excluded. But to alienate Assad, a country man and president, the number one citizen is great injustice and must be proposed by those who don't mean peace for Syria. The opposition is greatly confused and deceived to toe the way of saying Assad must be excluded thereby showing no way out of the present predicament. Until the op[position proposes something that is realistic, they will continue to wallow in stupidity and continue to have the blood of innocent civilians killed in the prosecution of this war on their hands.
    In Response

    by: gig24
    May 31, 2013 9:46 AM
    Breaking News in VOA

    Reports: Russian Missiles Unlikely to Reach Syria for Months but look here weblivecam southbond Bosporus www.turkishnavy.net ...an armada floating towards the ME a lot more than AAA weaponnery.They got large scale plans ,like USA had in Feb 2003 southbound suez!

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