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Syria conference faces more roadblocks - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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yrian National Coalition (SNC) President Mouaz al-Khatib (3-L) and and members of the Syrian National Coalition during a Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, 23 May 2013.(EPA)

Syrian National Coalition (SNC) president Moaz Al-Khatib (2-L) and and members of the Syrian National Coalition during a Syrian opposition groups meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 23, 2013. (EPA)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Doubts about the viability of the peace conference on Syria proposed by the US and Russia have continued to grow this week amidst infighting by Syria’s fractious opposition.

The conference, dubbed “Geneva 2” following last year’s international conference on Syria in the Swiss city, was conceived as an attempt to bring together representatives of the Syrian government headed by Bashar Al-Assad and the opposition groups that have been fighting to bring it down since 2011.

However, while the Syrian government has reportedly agreed to attend, representatives of the Syrian rebels have been unable to agree this week on who should act as the representatives of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) at the conference.

The talks also revealed a damaging split within the organization over a deal to broaden its membership, which was voted down over the weekend, despite previous promises to admit a liberal opposition bloc headed by the Christian human rights campaigner Michael Kilo, among others.

In response to the ongoing friction, a group of four Syrian rebel groups calling themselves the Revolutionary Movement of Syria issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the SNC and claiming that it has “failed to fulfill its responsibility to represent the great Syrian people’s revolution at the organizational, political and humanitarian levels.”

The statement rejected the latest attempt to broaden the SNC’s membership, saying that it should instead give more representation to the rebel groups fighting on the ground.

It also declared that the ongoing divisions had allowed “blatant interference [by] international and regional parties” in the SNC’s operations, a reference to the regional states that have backed different factions within the opposition coalition, and the involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria.

Without the ability to negotiate on behalf of opposition groups within Syria, the SNC will be increasingly vulnerable to accusations that it does not represent a credible negotiating partner, lengthening the odds that Geneva 2 will take place, or that negotiations will be successful.

Internationally, divisions between the US and Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other have been re-emphasized by the dispute over the flow of weapons to the war-torn country, after the EU bowed to British and French pressure to overturn its arms embargo on Syria’s rebels on Monday.

Although Britain and France said that they do not intend to provide any weapons to Syria’s rebels at this stage, Russia subsequently announced that it would proceed with the transfer of advanced, long-range S-300 air defense missiles to Syria, which Russian officials said were intended for defensive purposes and would lessen the chance of international intervention. Israel responded in turn, threatening to prevent the missiles being deployed.

Experts said the Russian announcement was intended primarily as a diplomatic gesture, given the length of time it would take to ship and deploy the missiles and train Syrian troops to operate them.

The division was deepened by a resolution on Wednesday from the UN’s Human Rights Council, tabled by the US, Qatar and Turkey, condemning “widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights” in the Syrian town of Qusayr, which has been the site of fierce battles between rebels and Syrian government forces, with the latter bolstered by Lebanese fighters from Hezbollah.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov branded the proposed non-binding resolution as “one-sided,” and said that it would endanger plans for the Geneva 2 conference.

He also reiterated Russian support for the presence of Iran at the conference, which is opposed by France and the US.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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