November 11, 2013
By Abdulrahman al-Masri and Jacob Wirtschafter
AMMAN: After a weekend of tense debate inside the Syrian Coalition, including an incident in which leader Ahmad al-Jarba slapped an FSA official in the face, the opposition announced its conditional willingness Monday to participate in Geneva II talks.
In a statement first posted on Facebook early Monday by SNC member Monzer Akbik, the Coalition announced it would participate in Geneva II should the framework for negotiations be understood as a step towards a change of authority in Damascus.
“The SNC also conditions its participation on allowing aid convoys to enter the blockaded areas before the conference, and to liberate all the detained people, especially women and children,” the statement added.
The pro-regime daily Al-Watan pounced on the Coalition’s decision Monday afternoon, calling it the result of Saudi and Qatari pressure while dismissing the announcement as meaningless since the “terrorists” fighting the government have lost any territory they gained.
“The places they claim as under opposition control, are in fact ruled by ISIS and Jabhat a-Nusra” opined Al Watan, mocking the SNC for its inability to govern any part of Syria.
Fissures between the Coalition and the Free Army have been evident for months, with insurgents in Aleppo and other Syrian cities issuing declarations disassociating themselves from the Coalition, which is based in Istanbul.
Sources told the All4Syria website that tensions over the opposition’s path forward played out violently on Sunday, when SNC President Ahmad al-Jarba allegedly slapped the FSA’s Political Coordinator Louai al-Mikdad across the face.
The independent pro-opposition website said al-Mikdad attempted to report an assault to Turkish police but delegates dissuaded him from seeking intervention and smoothed over the dispute with Jarba.
Later Monday al-Mikdad told al-Arabiya “the president of the coalition likes to act like shabiha,” referring to the pro-Assad militias known among regime opponents for its brutality.
Members of the Syrian National Coalition convened in Istanbul Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Syrian National Coalition.
Before the incident, al-Muqdad told Saudi newspaper Okaz, that the FSA was going into the Istanbul meeting with the intention of voting “no” to Geneva.
While efforts have been made to include representatives from the FSA in the Coalition’s “expansion” initiatives, with 14 of the 111-member body coming from the armed opposition, a wide gulf remains between the political and military elements in the group.
That tension largely stems from the fact that fighters are on the ground in Syria while the Coalition remains based in Istanbul, despite so-called “liberated areas” run by the FSA in northern Syria.
As casualties mount and the war drags on, fighters are becoming more militant, and for some in the moderate opposition, they may be the only hope to topple the Assad regime.
“I’m not with extremism but it’s the only solution, we can’t go straight from civil war to democracy,” said Kamal al-Labwani, a founding member of the Damascus Spring who now believes the war must continue until the regime collapses.
In contrast, 28-year-old media activist Sawsan Hadad insists that “the opposition must unite” and participate in the Geneva II negotiations to set the ground rules for a transition.
“Divisions among the political opposition are causing the division between the rebels,” said Haddad, speaking from Damascus. “If politicians unite, the internal divisions among rebels inside Syria will decrease.”
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