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Geneva Day 1: Regime, SNC take hardline, and contradictory, positions

January 22,2014  By Alex Simon AMMAN: The Syrian regime and […]

22 January 2014

January 22,2014 

By Alex Simon

AMMAN: The Syrian regime and opposition delegations gathered in Montreux on Wednesday and reaffirmed their starkly discordant positions, while fighters and activists inside Syria continued to deride the conference as disconnected from the reality on the ground.

“The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is a tool, nothing more,” said a 25-year-old Christian from Damascus who declined to use his real name, echoing a widely held view that Syria’s opposition-in-exile is little more than a Western and Saudi pawn.

Even if the parties at Geneva can come to an agreement, said Shamil al-Joulani, a journalist in southwestern Syria’s Quneitra province, “it will only include the opening of humanitarian corridors, and even then it will not include all of the besieged areas.”

Armed factions inside Syria have consistently blasted Geneva, and continued to do so on Wednesday.

“They are gathered at Geneva II, and we remain in our jihad…persevering until we achieve what we set out to do: rule by God’s law. Nothing short of that will satisfy us,” tweeted a spokesman for Ahrar a-Sham, one of seven hardline Islamist groups comprising the Islamic Front—arguably Syria’s most powerful rebel alliance.

“It is inconceivable that a political solution will succeed,” declared the Islamic Front Monday, in a joint statement with Jaysh al-Mujahideen and the Islamic Union for Soldiers of the Levant, two other rebel coalitions.

A political cartoon conveys the Syrian street’s expectations for Geneva II.
Courtesy of Twitter user @RevolutionSyria.

“The Syrian people will not be satisfied by any one group attending Geneva II on their behalf, bringing with them a series of concessions and retreats rather than defending our legitimate human rights and demands,” the statement went on, alluding to the SNC.

Meanwhile, in Montreux, the opposition delegation took pains to emphasize that it would not deviate from the revolution’s central goal of removing Assad from power.

“Any discussion about Assad remaining in power, under any conceivable circumstances, is a departure from Geneva II,” said Ahmad Jarba, President of the SNC.

Jarba reiterated that his group was focused on the Geneva I Protocol’s call for “the establishment of a transitional governing body, which is the topic of this conference—and the only topic.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry backed Jarba’s line, affirming that there was “no way” that Assad could regain his legitimacy and play a role in Syria’s transition.

During his turn at the podium, Syrian Foreign Minister Wallid al-Moallem struck a defiant tone, insisting that the conference focus on “fighting terrorism.” He warned Kerry that “nobody in the world…has the right to grant or rescind the legitimacy of a president, government, constitution, law, or anything else in Syria, except for the Syrians themselves.”

Moallem’s speech stretched on for 25 minutes, despite protests from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

“You live in New York, I live in Syria,” Moallem insisted, addressing Secretary Ban. “I have the right to give the Syrian version here in this forum. After three years of suffering, this is my right.”

“You spoke for 25 minutes, at least I need to speak 30 minutes,” he added.

Moallem’s meandering address comes days after uncompromising rhetoric from regime officials, with President Bashar Assad telling AFP last week that there was a “significant” chance he would seek another term, and dismissing the notion of a power sharing arrangement with members of the opposition as “totally unrealistic” and “a good joke.”

The opening session has given Syrian citizens little cause for optimism.

When asked what he expected would be the outcome of Geneva II, the activist in Damascus responded: “Arrangements for Geneva III.”

Mohammed Ali contributed reporting.

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