Syrian Opposition Talks Slowed Down As Discord Thrives


Syria’s opposition factions, struggling under Western and Arab pressure to close their ranks and elect a viable leadership, have resumed talks in Turkey for a final day aimed at creating a coherent front crucial to a proposed international peace conference.

The failure of the Syrian National Coalition to alter its Islamist-dominated membership as demanded by its international backers and replace a leadership undermined by power struggles, appears to be playing into the hands of President Bashar al-Assad.

By Saturday night, the factions locked themselves up in a room, trying to find a way to work together.

And while they continued their discussions behind closed doors, fighting continues inside Syria in Qusayr, where heavy bombardment has been going on for days.

Interim opposition leader George Sabra spoke at a press conference in Istanbul on Saturday, when he took a harsh tone with Hezbollah as well as Iran.

“Thousands of invaders from the Iranian forces and the terrorists of Hezbollah are still coming to Syria and still killing our people,” said Sabra.

“The killers are blockading, shelling and trying to storm several cities…they are, with the participation of the falling Syrian regime, killing Syrians in so many locations, in all governorates,” said Sabra.

Meanwhile, in a speech on Saturday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday vowed “victory” in Syria, where militants of his powerful Lebanese Shia movement are fighting alongside regular troops against rebels trying to topple the regime.

“I say to all the honourable people, to the mujahedeen, to the heroes: I have always promised you a victory and now I pledge to you a new one” in Syria, he said at a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of Israel’s military withdrawal from Lebanon.

After two days of meetings in Istanbul, senior coalition players were in discussions late into the night on Friday after Michel Kilo, a veteran liberal opposition figure, rejected a deal by Mustafa al-Sabbagh, a Syrian businessman who is the coalition’s secretary-general, to admit some members of Kilo’s bloc to the coalition, the sources said.

Kilo has said that his group wants significant representation in the opposition coalition before it will join.

Much to the chagrin and frustration of its backers, the coalition has struggled to agree on a leader since the resignation in March of Moaz al-Khatib, a former Damascus religious leader, who had floated two initiatives for Assad to leave power peacefully.

Khatib’s latest proposal, a 16-point plan that sees Assad handing power to his deputy or prime minister and then going abroad with 500 members of his entourage, won little support in Istanbul, highlighting the obstacles to wider negotiations.

“He has the right to submit papers to the meeting like any other member, but his paper is heading directly to the dustbin of history. It is a repeat of his previous initiative, which went nowhere,” a senior coalition official said. [AlJazeera]