Syrian opposition to present road map for political transition

Reconciliation process proposed to secure justice for ‘all of Syria’s victims’

Children pretend to  carry a coffin as they play along a street in Raqqa province, eastern Syria. Photograph: Nour Fourat/Reuters

Children pretend to carry a coffin as they play along a street in Raqqa province, eastern Syria. Photograph: Nour Fourat/Reuters

Wed, Aug 14, 2013, 01:00

Syrian opposition figures plan to present today in Istanbul a road map for political transition and a process of national reconciliation to secure justice for “all of Syria’s victims”.

Combatants on both sides have been accused of human rights abuses, massacres, executions and torture, with the government’s forces blamed for a disproportionate number of violations.

The road map provides for a return to the 1950 constitution and a hybrid presidential/ parliamentary system of governance. It also calls for disarming and restructuring the Syrian security forces while all “armed groups [would] be disarmed, demobilised, and [members] reintegrated into Syrian society”.

The body prompting the road map is the 300-member Syrian Expert House, which includes members of the Arab- and western-backed National Coalition and its main constituent, the Muslim Brotherhood-led Syrian National Council, as well as human rights activists, lawyers, defected officers and bureaucrats, and commanders of armed groups.

The road map has not yet been endorsed by the coalition but will be presented by its head, dual Saudi-Syrian citizen Ahmed Jarba, who is viewed as Riyadh’s protege.

The authors of the road map have expressed frustration over the West’s reluctance to arm the rebel Free Syrian Army while strongly motivated and well-armed radical jihadis seize control of territory and commit human rights abuses.

Commenting on co-operation between the Free Syrian Army and jihadi groups, US head of the joint chiefs of staff Gen Martin Dempsey said: “The real challenge for the [intelligence] community . . . is to understand when they’re collaborating just for a particular issue at a particular time and when they may actually be allied with each other.”

Free Syrian Army units collaborated with Jabhat al-Nusra in the battle for a military airbase in Aleppo province and with the Islamic State of Iraq in the campaign to capture Raqqa, the only provincial capital in anti-regime hands.

However, the Islamic State soon drove its allies out of the city and imposed its version of Muslim canon law, Sharia, and conservative social practices on residents, who have begun to protest.

Arabic daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that talks have begun between the main Syrian Kurdish group, the Democratic Union Party, and other Kurdish factions with the aim of forming an interim civilian administration for the Kurdish-majority region in northeast Syria.

Although the matter had been discussed earlier, negotiations seem to have been given impetus by attacks on Kurdish villages and towns by Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State.

The 250 Kurdish civilians who have been held by the two jihadi groups since last month were joined on Sunday by 13 new hostages handed by rebels to the Jabhat.

Attacks on Syrian Kurds have prompted Iraqi Kurdish provincial president Massoud Barzani to offer them protection.

Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said the international conference aimed at ending the conflict in Syria would not convene before October due to the heavy schedule of events at the UN General Assembly next month. “We are for it happening as soon as possible, but we need to be realistic about circumstances which could affect the forum.”

While the government has agreed to attend, the opposition remains divided and refuses to name representatives.