Key members of Syrian opposition detained at airport


TWO LEADING figures in Syria’s domestic opposition group were seized while leaving Damascus airport having returned from China, where they had held discussions on the situation with its leadership.

Abdel Aziz al-Khair and Iyas Ayash of the National Co-ordination Board were collected by another board member, Maher Tahan at the airport, and all three went missing on Thursday.

According to Haytham Manna, a Paris-based founding member of the board, a coalition of 13 nationalist, leftist and Kurdish groups, the three are being held for questioning by airforce intelligence.

“Any harm inflicted upon our colleagues, regardless of the party responsible, would be a wrongdoing inflicted upon Syria, its reputation and its unity. In this terrible time . . . Syria needs these leading figures more than ever,” said its chairman, Hassan Abdel Aziz, who added a meeting between it and 20 other domestic and foreign opposition groups would go ahead in Damascus on Sunday despite the arrests. The gathering aims to draw up a strategy for ending the bloodshed and launching a peaceful transition to democracy.

Some delegates may hesitate to attend, however, arguing that the government has not respected a guarantee given to Russia that the conference could go ahead and that those invited did not risk detention.

The western-backed expatriate opposition Syrian National Council has refused to attend because other participants reject militarisation of the conflict and external intervention.

Mr Khair, one of those detained, has been interviewed twice by The Irish Times. He is a physician and leftist opposition activist who was imprisoned between 1991 and 2005.

The Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram al-Arabi quoted Syrian president Bashar al-Assad as saying that western intervention based on the Libyan model would not “be repeated” in Syria. He said Saudi Arabia and Qatar are undermining regional stability by “supplying armed elements with weapons and training to weaken the Syrian state”.

Mr Assad said: “Those who have suddenly become wealthy . . . think their money can buy geography, history and a regional role”.

He said the only way to resolve the crisis was “through dialogue with the opposition”, and that the “door for dialogue is open”.

Meanwhile, according to opposition activists, the army has shelled Homs, clashes have continued in Aleppo and troops have sealed off Hama and made arrests in house-to-house searches.

In northeastern Syria a masked gunman on a motorbike killed prominent Kurdish activist Mahmoud Wali, a youth leader of the revolt.

Two Syrians and three Turks are on trial for providing Damascus with information on army deserters in Turkey and attempting to abduct a defector, said Turkey’s state news agency.

Iraq has banned from its airspace a North Korean aircraft bound for Syria because of suspicions that it might be carrying weapons.