Sunday, January 19, 2014
Syrian National Coalition will attend ''Geneva'', the Islamic Front however rejects the talks
The Yarmouk camp in Damascus, in July 2013. (Reuters).
The deeply divided Syrian National Coalition finally agreed Saturday to join the international peace conference, saying it wanted to remove Assad from power. The Coalition had been under intense international pressure to attend the conference, which aims to find a way out of the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and made millions homeless since March 2011.
The exiled Coalition voted by 58 votes to 14 with two abstentions and one blank vote at a meeting in Istanbul to attend the so-called Geneva II talks. That meant just 75 of the around 120 opposition delegates took part in the secret ballot, in a sign that strong disagreements persist.
Leader Ahmad Jarba said the umbrella group would be there with the sole aim of removing Assad from power. "The Geneva II negotiation table is a one-way road aimed at achieving all the demands of the revolution... and first and foremost stripping the butcher (Assad) of all his powers," he said.
Howver, the Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist fighting forces that represents a large portion of the rebels on the ground, said on Sunday it rejected the talks. Syria's future would be "formulated here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the front lines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don't even represent themselves," Abu Omar, a leading member of the Islamic Front, said on his Twitter account.It means that even if the talks reach an unlikely breakthrough in the three year old civil war, it will be harder to implement it on the ground.
More than 35 countries will gather in the Swiss cities of Montreux and Geneva on Wednesday for talks on setting up a transitional government to lead the country, in line with a 2012 deal.
The United Nations hopes the talks will bring about a political transition in the country, and US Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that Syria's future had no place for Assad. Syria, however, said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week that its focus at the peace conference would be on fighting "terrorism.”
In a surprise move in Moscow on Friday, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem presented his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov with a security plan aimed at halting "all military actions" in the devastated northern city of Aleppo. Muallem also said the government was willing to swap prisoners with the rebels in the first such mass exchange since the conflict erupted, while Lavrov said Damascus was ready to take "a series of humanitarian steps" to improve the delivery of aid. On Saturday, food aid entered the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus - where dozens of people are reported to have died of hunger and lack of medical care - for the first time in four months.