Syria opposition meets in Cairo to chart united frontBy: Murad Murad
CAIRO – Syria’s main exiled opposition groups met in Cairo yesterday to try to forge a common vision for a political transition in Syria after criticising a blueprint agreed by the major powers.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who chaired the meeting attended by around 250 opposition figures, urged the factions “not to waste this opportunity” and to “unite.”
Arabi also stressed the need for “a pluralist democratic system that does not discriminate between Syrians.”
Nasser al-Qudwa, deputy to UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, echoed Arabi’s call, telling the opposition to “unify your vision and your performance.”
“This is not a choice, but a necessity if the opposition wants to gain the trust of its people in Syria,” Qudwa told the meeting which was also attended by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait.
The two-day meeting was being held behind closed doors and comes as violence continues in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that more than 16 500 people have been killed in violence since the uprising against President Bashar Assad broke out in March last year.
Yesterday the Syrian army kept up its bombardment of rebel neighbourhoods of the central city of Homs as violence killed at least seven people across the country, the watchdog said.
An activist in Homs told AFP via Skype that many civilians remained trapped in the shelling of the Jurat al-Shiah, Khaldiyeh and Old City neighbourhoods of Syria’s third-largest city.
“Many neighbourhoods of Homs are still under siege, and it is really hard for us to get food or medicines in,” said Khaled al-Tellawy.
“Field doctors are amputating the limbs of the injured because they have no equipment to treat them with, and they can’t be smuggled out.”
Rebel fighters and activists based in Syria said they would boycott the Cairo meeting, denouncing it as a “conspiracy” and charged that the agenda of the talks rejects calls for military intervention.
The statement, signed by the rebel Free Syrian Army and “independent” activists, said the meeting serves the interests of the Syrian regime’s allies Russia and Iran.
The signatories rejected “the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people... and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters.”
World powers meeting in Geneva at the weekend agreed a transition plan for Syria, in a compromise with Russia and China, that was branded a failure by both the opposition and Syrian state media.
The boycotters said the talks follow the “dangerous decisions of the Geneva conference, which aim to safeguard the regime, to create a dialogue with it and to form a unity government with the assassins of our children.”
The Geneva plan did not make any explicit call for Assad to cede power, as urged by Western governments, after Russia and China insisted that Syrians themselves must decide how the transition takes place.
The opposition Syrian National Council said on Sunday that “no initiative can receive the Syrian people’s backing unless it specifically demands the fall of Bashar Assad and his clique.”
Of the more than 16 500 killed since the start of the uprising, 11 486 were civilians, 4 151 government troops and 870 army defectors, the Observatory told AFP.