1,500 evacuated from Damascus suburbs as major opposition group rejects Geneva-2

1,500 evacuated from Damascus suburbs as major opposition group rejects Geneva-2
Some 1,500 civilians were evacuated from a hotspot suburb of Damascus on Sunday, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent said. It comes as the Syrian National Council declared they wouldn't attend peace talks in Geneva, and said they may quit the National Coalition.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) said in a statement on its Facebook page that people were evacuated amid the fierce clashes in Moadamiyet al-Sham, west of the Syrian capital.

The civilians, most of whom were women and children, were safely relocated into shelters in the countryside near Damascus, the group added.

Local media quoted by Xinhua said the evacuation came after the Syrian army opened routes for civilians to leave the suburban hotspot. SARC, which often works in tough security conditions and has lost 22 of its members in the Syrian conflict, sent its volunteers to get the people out to a safe place.

Meanwhile, six aid workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross and a member of the Syrian Red Crescent were kidnapped on Sunday afternoon in the Syrian province of Idlib, ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told AFP.

This comes as the prospect of Geneva-2 peace negotiations is overshadowed by the latest split in the Syrian opposition, with the Syrian National Council (SNC) announcing it will not take part in the talks.

The Istanbul-based group has 22 of the 60 seats of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, commonly referred to as the Syrian National Coalition.

“The Syrian National Council, which is the biggest bloc in the Coalition, has taken the firm decision... not to go to Geneva, under the present circumstances [on the ground],” the group’s president George Sabra told AFP.

AFP Photo / SANA

Sabra then threatened the SNC “will not stay in the Coalition,” if it decides to go to Geneva.

“Nothing useful will come out for Syrians from attending the meeting,” he added to RIA Novosti, citing the “lackluster” international response to the consequences of the Syrian war, including the chemical weapons use, as the cause for the Council’s decision.

The opposition group has always been firm in its stand not to enter any talks unless Syrian President Bashar Assad is toppled.

However, the announcement comes just a day before the US Secretary of State John Kerry’s London meeting with the UN and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, where preparations for the Geneva-2 meeting will be discussed.

Brahimi has been trying to persuade the opposition to come up with a delegation for the talks as Russia and the US have been pushing for the conflicting Syrian sides to get to the negotiation table.

Although the exact date of the proposed Geneva-2 conference is yet to be announced by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, both Moscow and Washington have mentioned mid-November as a possibility for the talks.

The UN chief last month praised the Syrian National Coalition president Ahmed Jarba’s “commitment to send a delegation to the Geneva Conference,” and urged him “to reach out to other opposition groups and agree on a representative and united delegation.”

The Syrian government has repeatedly said it will go to the Geneva-2 conference without preconditions.

However, the notion of any talks with President Assad’s regime is rejected by the armed rebel forces fighting on the ground.

Some of the most powerful rebel groups also rejected the foreign-based Syrian opposition altogether. Thirteen rebel groups, including a division of the Free Syrian Army and more radical Islamists, stated that “all groups formed abroad without having returned to the country do not represent us” and called to unite under an “Islamic framework based on Sharia law.”