Islamic leaders appeal for serious dialogue on Syria

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

Islamic leaders have appealed to the Syrian opposition and government officials “not directly involved in repression” to initiate “serious dialogue” with the aim of ending the country’s deadly and destructive civil war.

Twenty-six leaders participating in the two-day meeting in Cairo of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation condemned what they termed “the ongoing bloodshed in Syria” and said the government bore “primary responsibility for the continued violence and destruction of property.”

Nevertheless, the communique at the end of their deliberations said such talks could help achieve the “aspiration of the Syrian people for democratic reforms and change”.

Softer approach

The summit – not attended by representatives of the government or opposition – refrained from calling on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down, a demand made previously by Arab and western leaders.

Key figures in the exiled opposition and western and Arab supporters appear to have adopted a softer approach to Mr Assad.

Ahead of the summit, opposition Syrian National Coalition president Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib proposed dialogue once 160,000 prisoners are re- leased and passports restored to opposition activists.

While pro-government figures and media have rejected these conditions, the government has not formally responded. Sheikh Khatib has said he will retract his proposal if women prisoners are not released by Sunday.

The US, Russia and Iran have backed his initiative since it could, a source said, build a common international position, revive the Geneva document agreed by the US and Russia last June, and lead to the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution.

Furthermore, the proposal “is good for the opposition’s relations with the population” which demands an end to warfare and a “serious political effort”, he said.

However, the call for dialogue was vehemently rejected by the Jebhat and other jihadi factions which intensified their assault on Damascus.

This could torpedo talks that could lead to a negotiated settlement rather than prolonged civil war, an outcome rejected by the international community.


Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who had hoped to emerge from the summit as a leading regional figure by securing a deal on Syria, was stymied by the refusal of Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz to join meetings of the “quartet” consisting of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey formed by Mr Morsi who seeks to reduce the bitter rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.

Mr Morsi had to content himself with discussions with Turkish president Abdullah Gul and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, eager to end Iran’s isolation by cultivating relations with Egypt, offered to extend a “big credit line” to cash-strapped Cairo and lift visas for Egyptians visit- ing Iran.