Inside Syria

Geneva II: The last exit for peace?

With the peace conference slated for next month, we examine the deepening divisions among Syria's opposition groups.

Last Modified: 20 Oct 2013 12:57
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Divisions have further deepened among Syria's foreign-backed opposition over the Geneva II peace conference slated for November. The Syrian National Council (SNC), which is the largest bloc in the Syrian National Coalition, says it will not attend any peace talks where it would have to deal with the Syrian government.

The SNC says it will pull out of the national coalition if any other members attend the peace conference, and it opposes any talks or deal until the Syrian government falls.

However, some groups within the opposition support talks with the Syrian government.

It's not the time for more fragmentation, we need more unity … all of us agree that the regime must go. Not the opposition but Assad thugs should be punished for killing Syrian people … However, I and so many other members of the Syrian coalition don't think the answer is rejecting Geneva talks. We should play that political game.

Farah al-Attasi, a member of the Syrian National Coalition

Russia and the US have been trying to arrange a peace conference for the past five months and get the Syrian government and members of the opposition to negotiate.

Amidst this opposition to the negotiations from within the Syrian opposition, Russia wants anyone who refuses to attend the talks punished.

"I expect the so-called disciplinary measures to be taken against the opponents of the Russian-US initiative so that they finally start working on Geneva II and stop their subversive operations," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged last week.

The Syrian government, on the other hand, says the Geneva II peace conference is now closer than ever.

On Thursday, Syria's Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said, "Today we are getting as close to the Geneva II as never before. After our talks in the Russian foreign ministry we agreed on the dates of the conference, or at least on the presumed dates."

Some experts believe that the key problem lies in the serious detachment of Syria's opposition with those fighting on the ground against the Assad regime.

"There are really two problems here. One is that Assad and his government remains strong and Syria in a sense is becoming partitioned - a de facto partition - with the government controlling the south and the west coast. The opposition members are controlling the north and east. Many of the political opposition [members] don't want to go to talks in these conditions because ... what you are getting is a demand of ceasefire and a de facto recognition of the partition of Syria. And that's anathema for all the Syrian rebels," says Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies and a professor at the University of Oklahoma.

He adds, "Secondly the political opposition has really become divorced in many ways from the power on ground … The opposition have not brought the [rebel] military leaders into the political opposition … If they go to Geneva they are going to look weak and whatever they say they are going to be looking over their shoulders at these military commanders who are going to condemn them for being puppets of America and for talking to Assad."

So what will be the fate of the Geneva II talks? Why are Syria's opposition groups divided over the peace conference? And what are the prospects for peace in the war-torn country?

Inside Syria, with presenter David Foster, discusses with guests: George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council; Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies and a professor at the University of Oklahoma; and Farah al-Attasi, a member of the Syrian National Coalition.

"We feel sorry for this [Russian] language which is not at all political or diplomatic ... we expect from Lavrov to be more serious and to discuss with those who are refusing to go to Geneva about the reasons behind them rejecting to take part in such a conference ... The Russian position that supports the regime in Syria is one of the obstacles in fact."

George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council


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