Syrian opposition fails to agree on peace talks delegation

Almost 500 people killed in eight days of fighting between insurgents and jihadis

Syrian rebel fighters hold their weapons as they walk along a street in Aleppo’s Salaheddine neighbourhood today. Photograph: Hosam Katan/Reuters

Syrian rebel fighters hold their weapons as they walk along a street in Aleppo’s Salaheddine neighbourhood today. Photograph: Hosam Katan/Reuters

 


Representatives of Syrian opposition groups meeting in Spain today failed to reach a common position on who would attend a US-Russian sponsored peace conference due to convene in Switzerland on January 22nd-23rd.

The gathering in Cordoba of 180 delegates brought together for the first time members of the divided expatriate National Coalition, figures from domestic opposition groups and representatives of insurgent formations, including rebels from the Free Syrian Army and members of non-al-Qaeda fundamentalist factions.

Veteran dissident Kamal Labwani said, “Most colours from Syria are represented here. There is even one person from Syrian security who supports Assad. We want them to be here. We will listen to them.”

Spokesman Yahya al-Aridi called on the international community to set a time frame for an end to the fighting. “Talks should not go on forever.”

Regarding the formation of the delegation, he said the focus should be on “finding people who have differences but at the same time . . . have one common goal”.

UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has called for the appointment of a nine-member unified opposition delegation to attend the conference. The government has said it will participate but insists President Bashar al-Assad won’t step down, the main demand of the opposition.

Mr Brahimi, US secretary of state John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are to meet in Paris on Monday to prepare for the conference, dubbed “Geneva II” , although it is to take place in Montreux.

Today’s talks in Cordoba took place as fighting continued on the ground in Syria.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) regained ground in the northern city of Raqqa, which it has held since last summer, while a tactical alliance of mainstream and fundamentalist forces gained the upper hand in Idlib and Aleppo, where jihadis are weaker.

Nearly 500 people, including 85 civilians, have been killed in eight days of fighting between the Syrian insurgents and al-Qaeda-linked Isis jihadis.

The Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that among the dead were 240 insurgents and 157 jihadis as well as 42 hostages slain by the Isis and 47 killed by anti-Isis groups in northern Idlib province.


Residents alienated
Although anti-government factions initially welcomed the jihadis, the Isis has not only kidnapped and killed other insurgents but also brutally abused civilians and imposed its harsh rule on conquered cities and towns, alienating residents.

Forces loyal to Mr al-Assad, bolstered by units of Lebanese Hizbullah guerrillas, have taken on insurgents in Aleppo province while Syrian troops have slain more than three dozen attacking a government-held neighbourhood of Homs city.

The World Food Programme has called on Damascus to grant access to besieged residents of the capital and Aleppo. WFP chief Ertharin Cousin said the agency wanted to increase its reach from 3.3 to 4.9 million Syrians in 2014.

After meeting foreign minister Walid Muallem, she said their discussions focused on getting into Aleppo and “areas of rural Damascus where government has said we can go”. A lack of food and medicine has, reportedly, killed 41 Palestinians in the Yarmouk district south of the capital.