4 min read  | Damascus, Politics, Reports

Coalition seeks to contain fallout as regime opponents denounce Geneva II


November 13, 2013

November 13, 2013

By Jacob Wirtschafter and Abdulrahman al-Masri

AMMAN: The Syrian Coalition’s readiness, despite a list of pre-conditions, to attend the proposed Geneva peace talks is further splintering the opposition and pro-revolution Syrians still inside the country, activists and analysts say.

“Everyone inside [Syria] refuses Geneva as offering no solution, especially those who have the weapons, ammunition and supplies to make a difference,” said Emad al-Ali, the leader of FSA’s Aal al-Beit battalion in Idlib.

The Geneva negotiations, al-Ali says, offer “no solutions for besieged areas and refugees” and are designed purely to “to save the regime.”

“The closer we get to a political solution, the more the fighters feel worried and anxious about losing the revolution’s rights and being marginalized as fighters,” says Mowafaq Nirbia, a member of the Political Committee of the Syrian National Coalition.

The FSA’s Supreme Military Command Council, which is allied with and participates in the Coalition, issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing what it called the international community’s “trade-offs with the regime at the expense of Syrian blood.” The statement also included a list of 10 mostly unlikely pre-conditions for the Coalition’s participation in discussions, including the departure of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters from Syria and the release of all detainees.

The General Assembly of the Syrian Coalition on Monday endorsed its own participation in UN-sponsored negotiations, which members hope will transfer power in Syria to a transitional governing body.

“This [transitional] body should maintain full executive powers, including presidential powers with control over the military and security apparatuses,” the Coalition said in a statement.

“The Assad regime and those associated with it will have no role in the transitional period and future Syria,” read the statement.

Opposition activists are quick to point out that the Coalition, while recognized in the West as the representative of the Syrian people, does not enjoy the same legitimacy at home, particularly as it maintains its base in Istanbul rather than FSA-controlled areas in north Syria.

Fighters and activists often criticize the Coalition for being out of touch with the grueling reality on the ground inside Syria.

“Geneva is just a framework for an international meeting, and in the end a solution will be enforced on us that we don’t agree to,” said well-known regime dissident Kamal al-Labwani, also a member of the Coalition’s Political Committee.

“It’s hard for the Coalition to refuse the narrative of the international powers,” says Wahib Ayob, 54, a longtime regime dissident who lives in the Golan Heights town of Majd al-Shams. “The main reason is the lack of representation of the opposition inside Syria on the ground,” Ayob said.

Prominent activist and founder of the All4Syria news website Ayman Abdulnour agrees. “The opposition has many divisions, some traditional, some youth, and the problem is that those with the loudest voice and experience are the elders, and they are out in front right now,” Abdulnour says. “This while the youth with real power are off the radar because of their lack of experience.”

Still, some opposition activists said they weren’t yet ready to give up on peace talks.

“I’m ready to ask myself to have some faith with Jarba and the Coalition,” said Qusai Zakarya, spokesman of the Moadimiyet Media Center.

“If going to Geneva comes with the pre-conditions of Bashar al-Assad giving up his role as the president of the Syria, releasing all his prisoners, giving food and aid to besieged towns inside Syria and ceasing the shelling and bombardment, I think this just might be a good chance,” said Zakarya.

While the language of the UN’s Geneva I communiqué conditions talks on the implementation of a cease-fire and humanitarian access to civilian populations, it also envisions ‘a neutral environment’ in which opposition and government leaders devise a transitional plan, hence the proposal for Geneva II discussions.

The Coalition is aware that its endorsement of talks would trouble both front-line activists and fighters risking their lives on the ground, Khaled Al-Saleh, an SNC spokesman, told reporters on Sunday.

The Coalition is dispatching a delegation from Istanbul to explain the opposition’s strategy for the proposed Geneva talks, al-Saleh said.

Mohammed Alloush, a leader in the Jaysh Al-Islam bloc, a coalition of 60 armed Islamist groups funded by Arab Gulf states, said that the talks are destined to fail.

Jaysh al-Islam plans defense of pro-revolution areas in East Ghouta, Outer Damascus. Photo courtesy of Islam Brigade.

“Any political solution should be imposed from the field, not from foreign parties,” Alloush told the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday.

Alloush’s position is one shared by SNC Political Committee member Kamal Labwani. 

“It’s bad to go with a weak military position, at least go with a strong military power for the regime to understand that it can’t refuse our terms,” said Labwani.

“Going to Geneva is defeat, and it is early to admit defeat.”

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