Syrian opposition shake-up falters ahead of peace conference

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International efforts to end the conflict in Syria continue on Monday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds key talks in Paris and Brussels to advance an initiative for a new peace conference.

Kerry will meet his Russian and French counterparts in Paris to push for an international conference on ending the unrest in Syria despite growing divisions within the Syrian opposition.

Syria's main opposition group ended a fourth day of talks in Beirut Sunday with little sign of a joint approach to the Russian-U.S. campaign to get all sides to participate.

The talks have been dubbed “Geneva 2” as they would follow a conference last June that produced a peace roadmap which failed to win support, triggering the resignation of Kofi Annan as special envoy on Syria.

Syria's opposition spokesman Louay Safi lashed out Sunday against a statement that President Bashar al-Assad's is ready to take part in a Geneva peace conference, reiterating the National Coalition's position that any settlement must exclude the embattled leader.

A crisis in Syrian opposition ranks deepened on Monday when a Western and Arab-backed liberal bloc was offered only token representation in the Islamist-dominated Syrian National Coalition.

To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations who have been monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member coalition thwarted a deal to admit a bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo with up to 22 new seats.

His group received an offer of only five seats after a session that stretched nearly to dawn, coalition sources said according to Reuters.

The move kept the coalition controlled by a faction loyal to Qatari-backed Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh, and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. That group led resistance to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad's late father in the 1980s, when thousands of its members were tortured and executed.

According to critics, Kilo’s entry would bring in several new women and members of Syria's religious minorities, shrinking the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and force Saudi control on the coalition, reported AFP.

Addressing the coalition, Kilo said, “We were talking about25 names as the basis for our negotiations, then there was agreement on 22 and then the number dropped to 20, then to 18,then to 15, then to five.

“I do not think you have a desire to cooperate and hold our extended hand. ... We wish you all the best.”

A source in the Kilo bloc said the group would hold a meeting in a few hours to decide whether to withdraw from the opposition conference.

Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh described the outcome as “democratic,” but said the coalition could discuss the expansion issue further.

Meanwhile, ahead of Monday's Paris meeting, the 27 EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels with the bloc deeply divided over whether to arm the Syrian rebels.

After months of bitter argument in Brussels, the issue will come to a head with the ministers to meet ahead of the expiry at midnight Friday of far-reaching EU sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime including a weapons embargo.

Britain and France are leading the push to have the arms embargo maintained against Assad but relaxed against the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

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