Opposition fighters condemn Syrian opposition coalition

29 May 2013 /TODAY’S ZAMAN WITH WIRES, İSTANBUL – Opposition fighters on the ground in Syria have condemned the main opposition coalition group, which has been meeting in İstanbul for the last one week to reach consensus on the extent of the bloc’s enlargement and a peace conference in June, for failing to represent the Syrian revolution.

The opposition fighters, who published a statement under the name of “The Revolutionary Movement in Syria” directed criticism towards the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SC) on a number of issues. The Syrian Revolution General Commission, Local Coordination Committees in Syria, Syrian Revolution Coordinators’ Union and the Supreme Council for the Leadership of the Syrian Revolution are among the groups on the ground who signed the statement.

Members of the Syrian opposition coalition began their meeting last Thursday, expecting to address the expansion of the coalition, its participation in the planned peace conference headed by Russia and the United States, its new leadership and finally forming a cabinet of ministers for interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto’s government. However, the 60-member-bloc has struggled to tackle its agenda or make any decisions due to the division between liberals and Islamists and their competition for membership in the coalition.

The meeting that was expected to only last three days is now on its seventh day with coalition still failing to come to any conclusions on agenda items, infuriating Syrian fighters on the ground and so igniting their harsh criticism. Members of the 60-member-bloc continued to discuss the issues on its agenda on Wednesday with few in attendance from the coalition’s leadership, coalition insiders told the Anatolia news agency. Former president of the coalition Mouaz al-Khatib, vice-presidents Suhair al-Atassi and Riad Seif and senior coalition members Walid al-Bunni, Haytham Malih, Louay Safi and Burhan Galioun did not attend Wednesday’s session. In their statement on Tuesday responding to the coalition’s indecisiveness, Syrian opposition armed forces questioned the credibility of the coalition, attacking its leadership and deeming it incapable. Syrian fighters assert that “There is no doubt that the coalition’s leadership has failed to fulfill its responsibility to represent the great Syrian people’s revolution at the organizational, political, and humanitarian levels”.

The opposition fighters add that “the council’s organizational capacity has deteriorated,” while they indicate there is an increasing international interference in the coalition’s ongoing meeting. “[The Syrian National Coalition] is unable to fulfill its obligations due to the ongoing discord among the different parties represented. This negativity has led to the blatant interference of international and regional parties without respect to the national will,” the statement explained.

The statement, intended to “restate national responsibility as a revolutionary force,” highlights how the coalition’s struggle to reach a decision impacts the prospects of convening the planned peace conference, which is supposed to bring together Assad’s representatives and the opposition for negotiations. The coalition participants agreed early on Monday morning to include eight more members to the 60-member body — six from the liberal bloc. But the enlargement discussion is not over after the liberal bloc voice its dissatisfaction over token representation in the mainly Islamist opposition coalition.

The liberal bloc, led by veteran opposition figure Michel Kilo, had demanded that 22 of its members be included in the coalition, but were given only 6 seats. The liberal camp deliberated on Monday whether to withdraw from the coalition. There were also reports on Tuesday that said two of the liberal members withdrew their membership in protest to coalition’s decision.

Kamal al-Labwani, an ally of Kilo and a senior member of the coalition, had already left İstanbul in protest at what he regarded as the domination of Qatari-backed coalition Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh, Reuters reported.

The statement said: “The recent attempt to expand membership in the coalition is no more than a feeble attempt to add persons and groups that have no real impact on the revolution, and we reject this attempt,” in response to the enlargement of the coalition.

The revolutionary forces also demanded representation in the coalition’s leadership. “Our political representation should occupy no fewer than 50 percent of the seats in the [coalition] and its leadership bureaus,” said the revolutionary forces in the statement while noting that it is “a final warning” for the coalition.

Russia and the US, backers of the conference in Geneva, are trying to convince the coalition members to join the peace talks with stepped-up efforts from senior representatives from Qatar, a major player behind the opposition, as well as other Western and Arab powers who have been discussing the issue with the members at an İstanbul hotel. “In Geneva, we are going to face a disciplined team that is going to be sent by Assad with experience in negotiating with Israel for decades. We can’t afford but to send our top people if we decide to go,” one senior opposition source told Reuters. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke on the phone with his counterparts from the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia discussing the opposition’s Syria meeting in İstanbul and diplomatic efforts ahead of the Geneva II conference. Kerry offered an update about his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris this week that focused on the preparations for the Geneva II conference. They also exchanged views about the opposition meeting in İstanbul, Anatolia said late on Tuesday. Davutoğlu’s talks with his Jordanian and Saudi counterparts also focused on the opposition talks as well as an EU decision this week to end an arms embargo on Syria, Anatolia said.