Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Damascus conference | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Whatever the objections voiced by the main Syrian opposition – which has resorted to arms on the ground to confront the regime’s fierce crackdown – to what was put forward during the “National Conference for Rescuing Syria” in Damascus the day before yesterday, in which twenty opposition parties, political trends and figures participated, the conference is still an important indicator that the regime and its allies are starting to realize they are in a stalemate.

Those attending this conference may have been accused by other opposition factions as being “false”, but in their statement they spoke explicitly about the departure of al-Assad. Their statement came from Damascus itself, talking about bringing down the regime with all its symbols and supporting infrastructure, right in the heart of the regime’s lair, under the eyes of its intelligence and security machine, and in the presence of ambassadors from Iran, Russia and China, who all support the regime.

In fact, no one can dispute the majority of the statement. The opposition in attendance called for sectarianism to be renounced, civilians to be protected in accordance with international law, Syria to be considered an integral part of the Arab world, the Kurdish community to be considered an essential part of the national Syrian fabric, and for emphasis to be placed on the unity of Syria and its territorial integrity.

Yet the most significant point was the call for the immediate cessation of violence firstly by the regime’s forces, and then for the armed opposition to also commit to this, under appropriate Arab and international observation. It seems that this is the main point of contention with the rest of the opposition factions, if we put to one side the real weight of each faction, whether they participated in this conference, are active on the ground, or among the people.

Theoretically and logically, no one is against a peaceful resolution to the crisis that has caused rivers of blood, massive destruction in Syrian cities and a huge number of refugees and displaced persons, in addition to the human suffering. No one who has Syria’s interests at heart is happy to see internal fighting ultimately between the sons of one nation, or to see the Syrian army, supposed to be an army for all Syrians, deteriorating like this and tarnishing its reputation in battles against its own people. This is all happening so a regime can cling onto power against the will of the people who have spoken otherwise.

However, there is a great distance between wishful thinking and reality. The Syrian revolution began peacefully and continued as such for many months. However, the demonstrations were met with bullets, fierce repression, attempts to ignite a sectarian conflict and media propaganda seeking to hide the fact that there was mass popular outrage demanding freedom and social justice. In such an endeavor, the regime slogans used slogans that it knew to be hollow.

Seas of blood were spilled, tens of thousands of families abandoned their homes and became displaced, and entire districts of major cities became reminiscent of Beirut’s neighborhoods during the civil war or Sarajevo during the Yugoslavia crisis. Cities are still being bombed by aircraft and feuds are accumulating, and the regime remains intransigent, suggesting that a peaceful way out would be very difficult. However, what was put forward in the Damascus conference may resemble a way out if a practical and realistic plan is put in place, with Arab and international support and credibility, to convince the armed opposition that it is not a trap. The first step in this regard is for the regime to declare a unilateral ceasefire, withdraw its troops from the cities and accept a transitional body comprising of a realistic representation of the actual opposition, including the Free Syrian Army and dissident officers, to pave the way for the transition of power. This will require the opposition to unite under a shared vision and postpone their ideological differences, and it will also require figures within the regime to have the courage to say to their leadership: Enough, you are the reason behind the destruction and bloodshed.