Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Western-backed main opposition Syrian National Coalition has taken the decision to attend the Geneva II peace conference scheduled to begin next Wednesday.
The Coalition’s media office announced that 58 of 73 eligible voters were in favor of joining the peace talks, with 14 opposed, 2 obtaining and one blank ballot.
The US and the opposition’s backers in the Arab world had strongly pressured Syria’s rebels to attend next week’s peace talks, which have already been delayed by months.
“The United States . . . urges a positive vote,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this week.
Speaking on Friday ahead of the Syrian National Coalition’s decision, Kerry reaffirmed that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad cannot be part of a political solution in Syria.
“The Geneva peace conference is not the end but rather the beginning, the launch of a process . . . that is the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution,” he added.
The Assad regime has already confirmed its attendance at the talks, which will open on January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland.
The decision comes as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem announced that Damascus is ready to offer a prisoner exchange with the rebels that have been seeking to topple the Assad regime for more than three years. This prisoner exchange comes as part of a larger deal for a ceasefire in Syria’s second city of Aleppo. Mouallam added that if a ceasefire is successful in Aleppo, similar deals could be agreed in other Syrian territory.
“We would like this to serve as an example to other towns,” Mouallem was quoted as saying.
Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the Syrian National Coalition’s political bureau, said that the Syrian rebels could accept the ceasefire agreement if the regime agrees to stop its use of controversial barrel bombs.
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Ramadan said: “All opposition military forces will adhere to this agreement if the regime stops its bombardment of civilians by explosive barrels,” adding that “the truce agreement may be expanded to Idlib if it is successful in Aleppo.”
Ramadan added: “A truce in Aleppo and Idlib is the initial outcome of Russian and American efforts to persuade the Syrian regime to end the bombardment by explosive barrels and open humanitarian corridors to deliver aid to the besieged areas and release the detainees.”