Syria Islamists spurn U.S. offer for talks – FULL STORY

 19, 2013 – Daily Star Lebanon – BEIRUT – “The Islamic Front has refused to sit down with us, without giving any reason,” U.S. Syria envoy Robert Ford told Al-Arabiya television, speaking in Arabic, one day after Secretary of State John Kerry said such talks might take place.

“We are ready to sit with them because we talk to all parties and political groups in Syria,” Ford said.  Ford’s comments came hours before Al-Jazeera television broadcast excerpts of an interview with the leader of the Nusra Front, a hard-line jihadist group that is not part of the Islamic Front.

Abu Mohammad Golani, speaking with his back to the camera, voiced criticism of some of the most extreme acts of takfir, or persecution of Muslims not seen as sufficiently religious, carried out by jihadist groups.He added that his group did not seek to monopolize power after the fall of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but that it insisted on establishing an Islamic state.

“The Nusra Front does not seek to rule society on its own when we reach the stage of the liberation of Al-Sham [Syria],” Golani said. “At that point a legal council of academics and thinkers will meet … and put in place an appropriate plan for running the country, which of course will be based on Islamic law.”

Ford, who made his comments in a video statement, played down reports that next month’s planned Geneva II peace conference would not lead to Syrian President Bashar Assad stepping down. “Our stance has been firm since the beginning of the revolution; Bashar Assad has completely lost legitimacy,” he said, stressing that Assad had no further role in the transitional period. A Syrian opposition spokesman also said Western nations had offered reassurances that Assad would play no role in a negotiated political transition.

Munzer Aqbiq, an adviser to National Coalition President Ahmad Jarba, insisted that the remarks made behind closed doors at a meeting last week in London among countries backing the opposition matched a statement issued after the meeting. “The 11 countries [including the United States, France and Britain], and behind them the 100 members of the ‘Friends of Syria,’ agree that there should be no role for Assad,” Aqbiq told AFP.

As for the reports of dialogue between Washington and the Islamic Front, Syria’s Foreign Ministry said such a policy contradicted U.S. and international commitments to combat terrorism, as well as “international pledges that terrorist organizations would not be given the chance to participate in the Geneva conference.” The ministry claimed that the Islamic Front was linked to the Nusra Front and thus part of Al-Qaeda.

“We don’t understand how the administration can justify to the public it’s holding dialogue with Al-Qaeda, which blew up the World Trade Center in New York,” it said. The ministry’s comments came one day after Riyadh signaled that it was prepared to act on its own to safeguard security in the region because of the West’s policies on Iran and Syria. “We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East,” the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammad bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, wrote in a commentary in the New York Times.

“This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by,” he wrote. Washington is also urging the U.N. Security Council to condemn violence by all parties and express outrage at Syrian government airstrikes, especially this week’s indiscriminate use of heavy weapons in Aleppo. A proposed council statement would express deep concern at the escalating level of violence in the conflict, including the use of Scud missiles and “barrel bombs” in Aleppo.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)