Key Syria rebel group quits opposition talks?

AFP reports: One of Syria’s main rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham, on Thursday pulled out of opposition talks aimed at forging a united front ahead of potential discussions with President Bashar Assad’s government.

It said it took the decision because of “the fundamental role… given to personalities linked to the regime” at the conference in Riyadh.

It named the Syria-based National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, which is generally tolerated by the government and participated in talks organized by Moscow on the conflict in 2014 and 2015.

Allied with the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham said it “rejects the outcomes” of the meeting which “did not affirm the identity of our Muslim people” in Syria.

The Riyadh conference which opened Wednesday and its outcomes were not “truly” representative of the Syrian “revolutionary factions”, the group said.

Ahrar al-Sham had agreed to attend the Riyadh talks despite the “lack of representation of jihadi factions at a level matching their… role” on the ground in Syria.

But the Islamist group had warned it “will not accept the results of this conference” unless they include “cleansing Syrian territories of the Russian-Iranian occupation and sectarian militia supporting them.” [Continue reading…]

Earlier, Aron Lund wrote: If the conference fails, through high-profile defections or a failure to reach agreement, the opposition will have stumbled on the threshold of the new peace process. Assad, Iran, and Russia will be overjoyed and current trends in the West, where countries are fast losing the last of their faith in Syria’s opposition, will be reinforced. But if the conference succeeds in producing a joint platform and keeps all the major groups on board, particularly the armed ones, it will have been a step toward a real political process—a necessary step, but not in itself sufficient.

Many problems remain, including the difficulty of accommodating hardline Islamist demands in a process geared to produce a political compromise, while also not alienating the rebel fighters that need to be involved for the process to have any meaning. Ahrar al-Sham opened the talks demanding “the complete cleansing of the Russian-Iranian occupation of Syrian land, and the sectarian militias which support it,” also calling for the “overthrow of the Assad regime with all its pillars and symbols, and handing them over for fair trial.” The United States, for its part, is imploring the opposition to come up with “creative language” on the issue of whether Bashar al-Assad should stay or go, seeing a measure of intentional ambiguity as the only realistic way to move forward. [Continue reading…]

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