News / Middle East

Syrian Opposition Shake-Up Falters Ahead of Conference

Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.
x
Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.
Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.
Reuters
A crisis in Syria's opposition deepened on Monday when liberals were offered only token representation, undermining international efforts to lend the Islamist-dominated alliance greater support.
 
To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian National Coalition thwarted a deal to admit a liberal bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo.
 
The failure to broaden the coalition, in which Qatar and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood has been playing the driving role, could undermine Saudi Arabian support for the revolt and raise the specter of a rivalry among Gulf powers that could further weaken the opposition.
 
Its Western backers have pressured the Coalition to resolve its divisions and expand to include more liberals to counter domination by Islamists. The plan also had support from Saudi Arabia, which had been preparing to assume a bigger role in coalition politics and has been uneasy about the rise of Qatar's influence, coalition insiders said.
 
Its apparent failure to do so came hours before the European Union was scheduled at a meeting in Brussels to discuss lifting an arms embargo that could allow weapons to reach rebel fighters in Syria seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The disarray also threatens to strengthen Assad's hand ahead of an international peace conference backed by the United States and Russia, planned to be held in Geneva in the coming weeks.
 
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were due to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss that planned conference.
 
Kilo's group received an offer of only five seats — instead of the more than 20 it had been looking for — after a session in Turkey that stretched nearly to dawn, coalition sources said.
 
The move left the Coalition controlled by a faction loyal to Qatari-backed Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh, and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. That group led resistance to the rule of Assad's late father in the 1980s, when thousands of its members were tortured and executed.
 
"We were talking about 25 names as the basis for our negotiations, then there was agreement on 22 and then the number dropped to 20, then to 18, then to 15, then to five," Kilo said, addressing the Coalition.
 
"I do not think you have a desire to cooperate and hold our extended hand," he said. "We wish you all the best."
 
A member of the Kilo camp said his bloc would meet later to decide whether to withdraw from the opposition meeting, although he said the coalition may still make a better offer.
 
Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh described the outcome as "democratic'' but said the Coalition could discuss the expansion issue further.
 
Saudi sidelined

With Lebanese Shi'ite guerrillas from Iranian-backed Hezbollah now openly fighting alongside government troops in Syria, Saudi Arabia is keen to play a greater role in backing the Sunni-led opposition, opposition sources have said.
 
Significant expansion of the 60-member Coalition would have diluted the influence of Qatar, the other main Arab player backing the revolt against Assad.
 
Coalition members who had campaigned for an organizational shake-up said the feeble offer to Kilo's bloc was an affront to Riyadh and would make Saudi Arabia balk at backing the opposition more forcefully.
 
"The only time the Saudis ask for something substantive from the opposition we turn them down," a coalition source said.
 
"Saudi Arabia before this meeting was on the verge of throwing its weight behind the revolt. It would have made sense for Qatar to take a role in line with its size and let Saudi Arabia take a lead role. Sabbagh, and apparently Qatar, got their way, but at what expense?"
 
Sabbagh, who has played a main role in channeling money for aid and military supplies into Syria, has been resisting a Saudi-supported plan to add members to the Coalition, opposition sources said.
 
"Sabbagh has been told by Qatar that the Saudis are brothers and he should compromise. But he is a Syrian first and he will put the interest of the national opposition above everything," an ally of Sabbagh in the Coalition said.
 
The Coalition's meeting in Istanbul has been extended by two days to discuss the Geneva conference and a new leadership, 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.
 
The Coalition has been rudderless since the resignation of Moaz AlKhatib, a cleric who had floated two initiatives for Assad to leave power peacefully.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid