Friday, May 24, 2013

Syrian opposition tries to close ranks ahead of planned peace conference in Geneva
Meeting of the Syrian 'National Coalition' in Istanbul, 23 May 2013.  Behin the table (in the middle, looki ng down) Moaz al-Khatib. (Photo Xinhua) 

Syria's opposition leaders have failed to back a plan by their outgoing leader for President Bashar al-Assad to cede power gradually to end the country's civil war. The 16-point plan proposed by Moaz Alkhatib, who resigned as head of the National Coalition in March, urges Assad to hand power to his deputy or prime minister and then go abroad with 500 members of his entourage, Reuters reports.
Alkhatib's proposal appeared to win little support from other Syrian opposition figures at a three-day meeting in Istanbul which began on Thursday, and the aim of which is to decide how to respond to a U.S.-Russian proposal to convene peace talks involving Assad's government next month.
The coalition is under international pressure to resolve internal divisions ahead of this conference. Looming large over the Istanbul meeting  is the shadow of Saudi Arabia, the main Arab backer of the opposition, which according to coalition sources is pushing to have the transfer of power in Syria top the agenda in Geneva. "Saudi Arabia is not happy that Geneva does not look like it will lead with the exit of Assad on day one," a senior coalition source said.
Opposition leaders said the coalition was likely to attend the planned peace conference, which could take part in Geneva in the coming weeks, but doubted it would produce any immediate deal on Assad's departure. Assad has not confirmed his government would attend the peace talks, however Russia said on Friday his administration had agreed in principle to attend.

Syria's opposition in exile also aims to elect a coherent leadership during the talks in Istanbul. It has been rudderless since the resignation in March of Alkhatib, the former imam of the Omayyad mosque in Damascus, who has in vain pushed plans for Assad to transfer power and leave in peace. His latest plan, posted on his Facebook page, calls on Assad to step down in favor of Prime Minister Wael al-Halki or Vice-President Farouq al-Shara, a veteran politician who has kept a low profile since the revolt began in March 2011, prompting opposition claims last year that he planned to defect.
Alkhatib said Assad should respond within 20 days and that he should then be given a month to dissolve parliament. Once Assad had ceded power, his government should stay in office for 100 days and restructure the military before handing over to a transitional government "which should be agreed upon and negotiated within the framework of international assurances".
Opposition figures in Istanbul were dismissive.

Washington has pressured the opposition coalition to resolve its divisions and to expand to include more liberals who can act independently of Islamists.

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