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Syrian opposition coalition agrees to attend Geneva 2 peace talks

Published time: January 18, 2014 17:20
Edited time: January 19, 2014 09:38
Photo from www.facebook.com/SyrianNationalCoalition

Photo from www.facebook.com/SyrianNationalCoalition

Following two days of heated debate, the Syrian National Coalition of opposition forces has voted in favor of going to Switzerland for peace talks scheduled for January 22, Reuters reports.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC), the main Western-back political opposition group, on Saturday agreed to attend the Geneva 2 peace conference. Of the 73 National Coalition members who took part in the vote, 58 backed the motion to attend Geneva 2 and 14 voted against it.

Following the vote, the head of the opposition group’s media office, Khalid Saleh, said the SNC understands the aim of the peace conference as the “forming of a transitional governing body that has full authority and is free of Assad and his inner circle.”

The group is now forming a delegation that will go to Switzerland for talks, the coalition’s Secretary General, Badr Jamous, told RIA Novosti. He added that a list of participants will be sent to the UN’s special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, before Sunday.

The decision was made in Istanbul, where the deeply divided group has been debating the prospects for its participation in the talks, brokered by the UN, US and Russia.

The tough talks started Friday but were interrupted and postponed. The meeting was complicated by a group of 44 members who threatened to resign over the “lack of transparency” in the recent re-election of the coalition leader Ahmad Jarba, according to Reuters.

Several major Syrian rebel groups also met in Ankara on Saturday to try and agree on a common stance regarding the Geneva 2 talks. The groups decided they “are not against a political solution” and three of them released statements, an opposition source told the news agency. However, there remained some “questions” on the issue, he added.

Earlier, Syrian opposition figure and coalition member Fayez Sara told Al Arabiya he was confident the decision has already been taken in support of the talks.

According to Sara, the National Coalition will go Geneva 2 to defend “the true interests of the Syrian people and the revolution.”

The so-called Geneva-2 conference, scheduled to start Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux, will bring the Assad government and the opposition to the negotiating table for the first time since the conflict began three years ago.

AFP Photo / Louai Abo Al-Jo

Syrian government officials have promised to participate in the talks. On Friday, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said the government was ready to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with opposition forces in the flashpoint city of Aleppo. A list of rebel prisoners has also been drawn up in preparation for a proposed exchange.

The Assad government has insisted on shifting the agenda for the Swiss peace talks from power transition to fighting terrorism. The idea was not welcome by the opposition.

“In these conditions we would be bringing legitimacy to Assad and breaking his isolation. We are giving the regime the biggest platform to tell the world that it is fighting terrorism when it helped create the problem,” Jamal al-Ward, head of the Supreme Military Council's military office said speaking to Reuters.

US, Britain and other Western powers had been pressuring the fractured group to go to the peace talks seeing them as the only way out of the crisis.

“The decision on Geneva is a big deal for us. We will not be happy if they say no,” a Western diplomat in Istanbul, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Washington Post ahead of the voting.

Russia, responsible for bringing the Syrian government to the negotiating table, has long before voiced concerns over who exactly was going to come to Geneva 2, with Sergey Lavrov arguing new groups within the Syrian opposition have lately “sprung up like mushrooms,” some of them having ties to terrorist organizations.

Lavrov said the reason behind the National coalition’s initial inability to agree upon participation in the peace talks were “inner squabbles between different groups of the coalition, supported by different foreign sponsors.”

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