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Syrian Opposition Seeks More Unity Ahead of Peace Talks

  • VOA News

FILE - A man walks by posters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that in Arabic read "Homeland, honor, fidelity. Together we will build it," in Aleppo, Syria, Dec. 5, 2016.

With a new round of U.N.-led peace talks set to begin next week, Syrian opposition figures are meeting Wednesday in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to form a more unified front, while several outside nations with heavy influence on the conflict are holding their own consultations in Russia.

Since the fighting broke out in 2011 the rebels have been a fragmented force opposing President Bashar al-Assad, with multiple attempts at uniting under an umbrella group held back by disagreements among the many factions.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said in an opening statement at Wednesday's talks in Riyadh there needs to be a strong, unified opposition delegation at the November 28 negotiations in Geneva.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, shakes hands with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura before their meeting on Oct. 26, 2017, in Geneva.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, shakes hands with U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura before their meeting on Oct. 26, 2017, in Geneva.

Multiple rounds of U.N.-brokered talks have failed to stop the war that has left at least 400,000 people dead and 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid.

De Mistura has warned that time is running out to finally find a way to resolve the conflict.

"I have asked for focus and realism because we need to get the parties into real negotiation over items where there is some prospect that they could begin to narrow the gaps,” he said in a late October briefing.

The U.N. Security Council has endorsed a multi-step political process that it says must be led by the Syrian people, and should include a new constitution and elections, as well as a nationwide cease-fire.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated their governments' support for that process in a phone call Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during a photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during a photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, Nov. 11, 2017.

The White House said Trump and Putin talked for more than an hour and stressed the importance of ending the humanitarian crisis in which millions of Syrians have been displaced from their homes. Trump and Putin said the displaced Syrians should be allowed to return and "the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens" should be ensured.

Putin hosted Assad for a meeting earlier this week and is holding talks Wednesday in Sochi with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the peace process.

Russia has bolstered Assad's rule with air strikes since late 2015 against groups trying to overthrow his regime, with Iranian fighters also supporting Damascus, and Turkey backing the Syrian opposition.

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