By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – January 19, 2014 14:25 Updated
By a 54-18 vote, the opposition Syrian National Coalition agreed on Saturday to attend this week’s international “peace” conference in Switzerland.However, the outcome also revealed the deep division within the Coalition over the issue. Forty-four members had withdrawn from the organization in protest, meaning that less than half of the 120-person Coalition supported the decision for participation.
The US and Britain had pressed the Coalition for a Yes, reportedly threatening to withdraw their backing if this did not occur. Claims circulated on Saturday that Turkey had warned it would close its borders, cutting off supplies to the insurgency, if the conference was rejected.
Ahmad Jarba, the head of the Coalition, maintained that the opposition would maintain its line — including the demand that President Assad step down — with “guns” as well as an “olive branch”: “We are supported and relying on people who are facing many atrocities that are unprecedented in history.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry declared, “This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the [Bashar] Assad regime and a civil war without end….(It is) a path that will ultimately lead to a better future for all Syrians.”
The opposition’s Supreme Military Council endorsed the decision. There was no immediate reaction far from insurgent groups inside Syria, but Coalition spokesman Louay Safi claimed groups such as the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and Jaish al-Mujahideen wanted “to have some representation within the delegation” at the talks.
Jaish al-Mujahideen later issued a statement denying it had endorsed the decision.
The leading domestic opposition group, the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change, said last week that it would not go to Switzerland, as attendance would be “suicide”.
Insurgents Claim Downing of 2nd Military Aircraft Within Days
Jaish al-Islam claim they have downed a military transport aircraft near Damascus International airport on Saturday night.
The insurgents say they used an Osa surface-to-missile system in the attack.