Syria opposition willing to enter talks with Assad regime

Participation conditional on creation of aid corridors and government releasing detainees

A fighter from Tawhid Brigade, which operates under the Free Syrian Army, runs beside a tank in Base 80 area of Aleppo, yesterday as Syrian forces, backed by Lebanese Hizbullah militants, recaptured an army base in northern Syria from rebels. Photograph:  Molhem Barakat/Reuters.

A fighter from Tawhid Brigade, which operates under the Free Syrian Army, runs beside a tank in Base 80 area of Aleppo, yesterday as Syrian forces, backed by Lebanese Hizbullah militants, recaptured an army base in northern Syria from rebels. Photograph: Molhem Barakat/Reuters.

Mon, Nov 11, 2013, 08:31

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition group has said it intends to join peace talks with the Syrian government if conditions are met.

After a vote in Istanbul, Turkey, the Syrian National Coalition agreed to attend a proposed peace conference with president Bashar Assad’s government. The US and Russia are trying to convene the talks in Geneva by the end of this year.

But according to a coalition statement, the group says representatives would attend only if the Syrian government allowed the creation of humanitarian corridors to reach besieged areas and released detainees, especially woman and children.

Excerpts of the statement were released by the office of Monzer Azbik, who is chief of staff to coalition chief Ahmad al-Jarba.

The coalition statement made clear that the decision did not remove its demand that Dr Assad step down in any transitional government.

“Bashar Assad will have no role in the transitional period and the future of Syria, ” it said.

The coalition is also expected during its meetings to approve a list of cabinet of ministers presented by interim prime minister, Ahmad Toumeh, who was elected in September.

The statement on the Geneva talks followed a deal yesterday to ease a blockade on a rebel-held town near the Syrian capital, allowing food to reach civilians there for the first time in weeks, activists said.

That deal is the latest to be struck in recent months between Assad’s government and disparate rebel groups in the country’s more than two-year-old conflict.

The Western-backed group had called for goodwill measures from the Assad government, including lifting sieges on rebel-held areas. It was not clear whether the deal to ease the blockade on Qudsaya, near the capital Damascus, was such a gesture, as neither rebels nor Syrian officials comment on such deals.

Activist group the Qudsaya Media Team confirmed the truce in a statement but gave few details. In an earlier statement this month, the group said local markets had run out of food, and the area’s poorest residents were going hungry.

Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the deal allowed food and flour to enter the town, under blockade since October. The observatory monitors the conflict in Syria through a network of activists on the ground.

All warring sides in Syria’s civil war have blockaded towns to squeeze the opposing fighters and their support networks, but the most affected have been poor people struggling to buy food, the elderly, the sick and children.

In recent weeks, a variety of Syrian mediators have been trying to ease blockades in several areas, with modest success.

Syria’s government is under pressure from the international community to allow food and medical aid into blockaded areas, particularly after reports emerged of widespread hunger in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh this year. It appears civilians have also pressured rebels to accept truces.

Meanwhile, fighting raged for control of a key base protecting the government-held airport in the northern city of Aleppo.

The Brigade 80 base first fell to rebels in February, but the government retook it last week. Activists said it was recaptured by rebels overnight on Friday, but by yesterday afternoon, troops loyal to Assad were again in control, said the observatory and a Lebanese television channel that closely follows Syria.

The rebels fighting at Brigade 80 have been led by fighters from the Islamic Tawhid Brigade and two al Qaida-linked groups, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

The government-held Aleppo International Airport, which has been closed due to fighting for almost a year, is one of the Syrian rebels’ major objectives.

AP