By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – 24 Nov 2017 – After a conference in Saudi Arabia, Syria’s opposition has announced a unity agreement for a new bloc and maintained its demands that Bashar al-Assad leave power.More than 140 participants elected 50 members to a reformed High Negotiations Committee. On Friday they will name the delegation for the next round of UN-sponsored talks in Geneva.
“The Syrian opposition has sent a message that it is ready to enter serious direct talks over a political transition in Syria and has a unified position and a vision for the future of Syria,” spokesman Ahmad Ramadan said.
Before the meeting, members of the main opposition — the umbrella Syrian National Coalition and the original High Negotiations Committee, created in a Riyadh meeting in December 2015 — had put a question mark over this week’s conference. They expressed concern that it would retreat from the insistence on Assad’s departure and objected to the inclusion of the “Moscow group”, a smaller faction backed by Russia. The head of the HNC, former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, and other senior members resigned.
But in the end, the members who went to Saudi Arabia accepted both the Moscow group and another faction, the Cairo group, including Jihad Makdisi, the former spokesman for the Assad regime. Doing so, they met the demand of UN envoy Staffan de Mistura for a wider bloc before renewal of the Geneva talks.
“We agreed with the group of components present here in Riyadh and the Cairo and Moscow platforms on the formation of one delegation to participate in direct negotiations in Geneva in a few days,” spokeswoman Basma Qadmani said.
“Radical Political Transition”
However, the Moscow and Cairo groups acceded to the call for a Syria which will not be ruled by Assad.
“The participants stressed that [the transition] cannot happen without the departure of Bashar al Assad and his clique at the start of the interim period,” the conference communiqué declared.
It also called for the full withdrawal of the Iranian-led foreign militias and Hezbollah, who have propped up the Assad regime’s military since 2012, saying they fed “terrorism and sectarian strife” between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
The participants focused on the bombing of civilian areas, protracted sieges, and mass detentions of the regime. They backed the Geneva process for “a radical political transition” from an “authoritarian system” to a democracy with free elections.