Opposition: Geneva ‘funeral’ for Syrian regime

The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition has overwhelmingly voted in favor for the upcoming peace talks in Switzerland

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The main Syrian opposition group in exile promised on Saturday that it will not “compromise” its principles after it finally decided to attend the peace talks in Switzerland next week.

“We will go to Geneva 2 without compromising any principles of our revolution,” Ahmed al-Jarba, head of the Syrian National Coalition, told reporter in a press conference in Istanbul.

Jarba said that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime will “enter its funeral,” when attending the conference.

The Coalition has long said that President Assad must go and that his inner circle cannot participate in any transitional government, stipulations that were required for last year's Geneva 1 conference.

“The [Syrian] regime will not deceive us,” Jarba said, referring to the Baathist Assad’s regime use of a “Arab nationalism” pretext, despite allying itself with Iran.

He also said that Assad’s regime has “sold the world” a false image of “oppressed minorities and terrorism [at the hands of rebels] but it is killing them with its ISIL sword and its Iranian agents.”

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants are extremists who have fought against the more moderate Syrian rebels. Syrian opposition groups have accused ISIL of fulfilling agendas of Assad’s regime.

Jarba’s statement came after the Coalition agreed to attend the internationally sponsored peace talks beginning in Switzerland next week.

“58 of the National Coalition members have voted in favor for participating in Switzerland,” Bassem Yousef, a Coalition member, told Al Arabiya News Channel.

Yousef said only 14 voted against and two abstained from voting.

The Geneva 2 talks with representatives from Assad’s government will start in Montreux on Wednesday. The talks will seek to find a political solution for the nearly three-year conflict that killed more than 130,000 and wounded at least 500,000 people.

The Coalition was originally meant to begin voting on the decision on Friday but postponed the discussion due to problems posed by some 40 delegates, Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said.

These delegates had threatened to resign at the last meeting of the Coalition 10 days earlier, concerned at the “lack of transparency” in the re-election this month of Jarba, seen as close to key rebel backer Saudi Arabia, as National Coalition leader.

Meanwhile, representatives of major Syrian rebel militias also met in Ankara on Saturday to try to agree on a common stance for the upcoming peace talks, Reuters cited opposition sources as saying.

Jarba told the SNC’s general assembly in Silivri near Istanbul that the rebel militias had met, a source in the president’s office said. He declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the talks.

One rebel commander said the Islamic Front was expected to attend the meeting, but another opposition source said the group had not been present at the talks.

Kerry hails decision

The Coalition, meanwhile, was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday praised the opposition’s decision as “courageous.”

“This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the (Bashar-al-) Assad regime and a civil war without end,” Kerry said in a statement, calling the opposition decision “a path that will ultimately lead to a better future for all Syrians.”

Many Coalition members were hesitant to attend a conference that which has little chance of success and will burn the remaining credibility the group has with powerful rebels on the ground who reject the talks.

The Syrian government has already said it will attend the talks.

(With Reuters, Associated Press and AFP)