The head of the Free Syrian Army on Tuesday said his group would not take part in the Geneva peace conference aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria. The rebel leader also said his fighters would not put down their arms during the January talks.
The head of the Free Syrian Army, General Salim Idriss, said on Tuesday that his group would not take part in a Geneva peace conference on Syria, adding that rebel fighters loyal to the group would continue fighting President Bashar al-Assad's regime throughout negotiations.
The meeting, set to start on January 22, was announced by the United Nations on Monday and is meant to gather Syrian officials and rebels in a first-ever face-to-face meeting. The stated goal of the conference is for warring parties to agree on a mutually acceptable transitional government to bring an end to the two-and-a-half-year-old conflict.
In an interview with the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera, however, Idriss said “conditions are not suitable for running the Geneva 2 talks at the given date and we, as a military and revolutionary force, will not participate in the conference. “
“We will not stop combat at all during the Geneva conference or after it, and what concerns us is getting needed weapons for our fighters,” he added.
The Western-backed Free Syrian Army is an umbrella group encompassing many rebel units, but opposition sources and analysts say its influence has already been reduced by influential Islamist groups who are making their own alliances that draw in the most powerful rebel forces on the ground.
Assad 'accepts no preconditions'
Assad’s government has said it would attend the conference but would accept no preconditions and would put any agreement to a referendum -- a vote which opposition figures say will be rigged against them.
The opposition has been badly divided over Geneva 2, with the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition’s umbrella political leadership which is also supported by the West, agreeing to talks despite strong resistance by fighters and activists on the ground.
Rebels are wary of the talks, which they feel do not represent them and fear will not ensure Assad’s ousting.
On Tuesday, however, coalition spokesman, Khalid Saleh, told Al Jazeera it had still made no firm decision to go to Geneva, but only made “an expression of readiness to attend “.
Opposition figures in Istanbul said some coalition members were in talks in Geneva with the UN envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, as well with officials from the United States and Russia, the main architects of the talks.
One source said political opposition groups would meet again in mid-December to vote on whether or not to attend the negotiations.
Iran prepared to take part
Separately, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that if invited, Tehran was prepared to take part in the conference.
“Participation of Iran in Geneva 2 is in our view an important contribution to the resolution of the problem. We have said all along that if Iran is invited, we will participate without any preconditions,” Zarif told Iran’s Press TV.
Along with Russia, Iran is the main backer of al-Assad in a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted millions more.
Tehran’s participation in the peace talks would likely strengthen any agreement reached in Geneva.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-11-26