Syrian opposition accepts Saudi invite to peace talks

Syrian National Coalition and other opposition to meet in Riyadh with aim of unifying position before Vienna summit.

    Syrian opposition accepts Saudi invite to peace talks
    At least 11.8 million Syrians have been displaced since the start of the war in 2011 [Mohammed Badra/EPA]

    The Syrian National Coalition has accepted an invitation to join talks with other opposition groups in Saudi Arabia's capital, Al Jazeera has learned.

    The SNC will decide on Monday evening which of its 20 members it will send to a conference in Riyadh later this month, Nagham al-Ghadri, the coalition's vice president, told Al Jazeera by phone from Turkey on Tuesday.

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    "The Syrian coalition, local coordination committees, separate opposition members, 15 representatives of the Free Syrian Army and religious personnel will join together, following an invitation from Riyadh, to join the peace talks from December 11-13," al-Ghadri said.

    "The aim of this conference is to come out with a document in accordance with the Geneva communique, agreed by all opposition sides."

    The communique was drawn up by an action group attended by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and the then UN peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan on June 30,2012 during the Geneva I Conference on Syria. It included a political settlement comprising ending all violence, restoring institutions and creating a new constitutional order in Syria.

    Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said on Friday that Riyadh was in contact with various Syrian opposition groups about the coming meeting, with the hope of unifying their position before peace talks in Vienna due in January.

    "Riyadh is trying to bring as broad a cross-section of Syrian opposition groups as possible" Jubeir said, adding that groups on "terrorist lists", such as ISIL, would not be part of the talks.

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    The SNC was established during November 2012 and is headed by Khaled Khoja. The group aims to replace Syria's current leadership with a transitional government after achieving international recognition.

    "When we held a meeting with the Saudis a while back they made it clear that [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad is not, and will not, be part of any peace process or transitional government in Syria," the SNC's al-Ghadri said.

    "There will be no one representing the Syrian government in the three-day talks in Riyadh.

    "This meeting is only for the Syrian opposition. The aim is to unify and hopefully agree on one document to be able to propose in the Vienna talks in January.

    "We need to prepare for the transitional period that we hope Syria will go through soon. We want to prove to the international community that keeps criticising our efforts to unite, that we can agree and move forward with one goal. That is the aim of the Riyadh talks. We want to prove we can unite."

    When asked about the latest Russian intervention in Syria, al-Ghadri said Moscow has been targeting civilian areas across the country and have slowed down the political and peace process in Syria.

    "Russia is proving a point. It has major influence over the Syrian government and nothing else. Syria is no longer run by individuals, but is backed and run by Iran and Russia. This has slowed down the political process to resolve the conflict in Syria."

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    In recent efforts to unify support for the Free Syrian Army, the SNC has been planning the restructuring of the military council and will announce the new formation soon.

    "In a few days, we will announce the reformation of the oppositions military council under our ministry of defence, to clarify who the Free Syrian Army is and who we are fighting."

    More than a quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria's conflict since it broke out in March 2011, while at least 11.8 million others have been displaced.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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