Syrian opposition meets in Istanbul for peace conference

The Friends of Syria meeting statement said the participants will "further increase" support for the opposition and "take all other steps as necessary" until the Geneva talks produce a transitional government.

Syrian opposition meets in Istanbul for peace conference

World Bulletin/News Desk

Members of the main Syrian opposition group opened a three-day meeting in İstanbul on Thursday to discuss how to respond to a US-Russian initiative to bring Syria's warring sides to the negotiating table.

The meeting is also discussing internal issues, including enlargement of the opposition coalition by adding new members; electing a new presidential committee after recent resignation of its previous president, Mouaz al-Khatib; and the fate of an interim government established in opposition-held areas, according to a statement from the opposition coalition, formally known as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Participants will elect a president to replace al-Khatib, as well as three vice presidents and a general secretary, and hold deliberations on whether to approve interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto's Cabinet or ask for changes in it.

The statement said the participants will decide whether to participate in the planned peace conference in Geneva. The conference, dubbed Geneva II in reference to a similar meeting last year, is hoped to pave the way -- as a result of talks involving both the regime and the opposition -- for the establishment of a transitional government in Syria to end the country's vicious civil war.

Many in the opposition, however, are reluctant for talks with the regime, saying it would grant legitimacy to the regime after tens of thousands of deaths.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking during a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Amman, Jordan on Wednesday, sought to convince the opposition to support diplomatic efforts, saying “the only alternative to a negotiated settlement is more killing, more innocent civilian deaths, more chaos, more instability in a part of the world that has already suffered too much."

The İstanbul meeting comes after several weeks of military gains by the Syrian regime, including the reopening of a key southern highway to Jordan and a push into the strategic opposition-held town of Qusair over the weekend.

Such successes will likely harden President Bashar al-Assad's position in any peace talks. The Syrian leader has said that he will not step down as a result of transition talks, and that Syria's political future must be determined in elections.

Meeting in Amman, 11 nations that constitute the “core group” of the Friends of Syria alliance said in a statement after their meeting on Wednesday that the planned transitional government for Syria should assume power over the army and the executive, which are now in the hands of President Assad -- a call welcomed by the opposition coalition.

In addition to the 11 nations, which include Turkey and Western and Arab nations supporting the opposition, the meeting was also attended by opposition leaders George Sabra and Gen. Salim Idris.

Opposition representatives have earlier said they would consult Turkey and other allies before deciding whether to join the Geneva talks.

In remarks before departing for Amman on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu insisted that any transitional government that would be established after the Geneva II conference should exclude those of the regime “who have blood on their hands.”

He avoided voicing any precondition on the process of negotiation that would lead up to the establishment of a transitional government, saying it is up to all participants of the process to decide on its details.

Also speaking before the Friends of Syria meeting, Kerry warned the Syrian regime that the support for the opposition will increase if it does not stand behind efforts to form a transitional government.

"In the event that we can't find that way forward, in the event that the Assad regime is unwilling to negotiate Geneva in good faith, we will also talk about our continued support, growing support for opposition in order to permit them to continue to fight for the freedom of their country," Kerry said in a news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

The Friends of Syria meeting statement said the participants will "further increase" support for the opposition and "take all other steps as necessary" until the Geneva talks produce a transitional government.

The participants of the Amman meeting also called on Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah ally to withdraw fighters immediately from Syrian territory, describing their armed presence in the country as a threat to regional stability.

It also warned of "severe consequences" if use of chemical weapons by Assad's forces is confirmed.

The alliance statement said Assad's forces "committed ethnic cleansing" this month in the city of Banias. Opposition campaigners said forces from Assad's minority Alawite sect killed and mutilated at least 100 Sunni men, women and children in the coastal city of Banias on May 2.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Mayıs 2013, 09:48