RIYADH Syria’s divided rebel and opposition groups are trying to forge a common stance to oust President Bashar al-Assad but the absence of prominent activists and a principal Kurdish force from their talks in Riyadh shows that unity remains elusive.
Saudi Arabia, a robust supporter of rebels fighting for 4 years to topple Assad, is hosting the opposition this week in the most ambitious try but to find an agreed platform ahead of talks with the government to finish Syria’s conflict.
Bringing the fragmented opposition together is observed by its backers as a critical step to end a civil war which started with protests against Assad in 2011 and rapidly drew in rival Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim powers across the Middle East.
Shi’ite Iran, Assad’s primary regional supporter, has criticized the meeting in the Sunni Muslim kingdom, saying it is designed to harm efforts to attain a peaceful resolution to a war which has killed 250,000 men and women and displaced 12 million.
At a Riyadh hotel exactly where the talks will start on Wednesday, security was stepped up and journalists were ejected as fighters and opposition leaders gathered. Particular forces soldiers with physique armor and assault rifles manned checkpoints.
An initial list of 65 invitees to the Riyadh talks has grown substantially, but critics say it nonetheless falls short of a completely inclusive meeting.
The Kurdish administration that runs swathes of north Syria was not invited. Rebels in western Syria do not trust the primary Kurdish militia, the YPG, due to the fact they say it cooperates with Damascus rather than fighting it.
“It is not all-encompassing. It is not the consolidated, general opposition platform,” a Western diplomat following Syria said of the Saudi meeting. “I do not count on Riyadh to be a constructive step … The complete point has been extremely acrimonious, and it appears like a Saudi-Turkish want-list.”
Alongside Saudi Arabia, Turkey is one of the major foreign backers of the rebellion against Assad.
Syrian Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen groups held their own opposition conference in the Kurdish-controlled town of al-Malikiya at the Syrian-Iraqi border on Tuesday.
Haytham Manna, an activist in exile, stated he would not attend the Riyadh meeting because it integrated “individuals who help an Islamic emirate”.
With Iran decrying the meeting as damaging to peace prospects and Western countries concerned by the function that Islamists will play, Saudi Arabia might struggle to unite the enemies of Assad.
For Saudi Arabia, Syria has been secondary to Yemen this year as the primary cockpit in an overarching struggle for regional influence with Iran, but the ruling Al Saud continue to regard the Syrian civil war as a pivotal battlefield in the rivalry.
Fighting has escalated in Syria in current weeks and Russian warplanes have intervened to help Damascus even though a U.S.-led coalition has stepped up strikes against Islamic State targets from the crowded skies over the nation.
BLOODSHED, REFUGEES AND ATTACKS
Enhanced bloodshed, an influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, and a wave of international attacks claimed by Islamic State revived international efforts to include the violence.
“This is the initial meeting exactly where we have all the opposition, the politicians and the armed groups,” stated Hadi al-Bahra, a member of the Turkey-based SNC opposition coalition.
These talks ought to begin by Jan. 1, under the terms of an agreement reached by globe powers and regional states at a meeting in Vienna a month ago.
Participants invited to the Riyadh meeting contain Islamist factions Islam Army and Ahrar al-Sham, a group whose founders had links to al Qaeda. Ahrar al-Sham fights alongside the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian wing, whilst espousing a nationalist agenda.
A dozen rebel groups who fight beneath the banner of the Free Syrian Army are also due to attend, which includes groups vetted by the United States that have received foreign military help.
Of the two most powerful armed groups in Syria, Islamic State has not been invited and the al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front is also not anticipated.
National Coalition member Nagham al-Ghadri said the two-day meeting aimed to agree on a document to take to any talks with the Damascus government, as properly as an agreed negotiating group.
She said the opposition would not back down from its demand that Assad step down as quickly as a transitional ruling physique – which an international meeting on Syria named for 3 years ago – is established.
“The minute the transitional period must commence, he ought to leave. We do not agree that he could stay in the course of the transitional period,” Ghadri stated.
The Syrian government has dismissed any talk of a transitional physique getting imposed in Syria, saying any adjust in energy in Damascus must be decided by the Syrian individuals.
Some Western nations which known as for Assad to step aside in 2011 have softened their demands, suggesting he could at least remain for an interim period.
Ghadri said the outside globe was sending mixed messages over Syria, showing that international divisions ran even deeper than any splits in the Syrian opposition.
“It is not just us. We know what we want,” she stated. “Some countries never know what they want from Syria.”
(Further reporting by Tom Perry and Sylvia Westall in Beirut, and Suleiman al-Khalid in Amman Writing by Dominic Evans, editing by Sami Aboudi and Peter Millership)