Syrian opposition says peace talks must guarantee Assad’s exit

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Syria’s opposition coalition said on Wednesday it would only take part in a planned peace conference in Geneva if a deadline was set for an internationally-guaranteed settlement based on President Bashar al-Assad leaving power.

In its first official reaction to the conference being prepared by the United States and Russia, the coalition voted to adopt a declaration seen by Reuters that said it was committed to the aim of removing Assad and his most senior officials.

“The participation of the Syrians in any conference is tied to the presentation of a deadline for a solution and giving the necessary binding international guarantees,” said the statement, issued after seven days of meeting riven by internal dispute.

“The Syrian Coalition welcomes the international efforts to find a political solution to what Syria has been suffering for two years while being committed to the principles of the revolution,” it said.

The declaration said “the removal of the head of the regime and the security and military command” was paramount.

The talks have been marred by disagreement within the coalition over broadening its membership and appointing a new leadership. Lack of unity has threatened to rob the Islamist-dominated alliance of international support.

The 60-member coalition has so far failed to agree on the wider involvement of a liberal opposition bloc, to the dismay of Western and some Arab backers keen to reduce Islamist influence.

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