Syria opposition agrees to send united delegation to Geneva talks

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Syria's fragmented opposition announced early Friday they had reached an agreement to send a united delegation to next week's UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva.

"We have agreed with the two other (opposition) branches to send a united delegation to participate in the direct negotiations in Geneva," Bassma Kodmani, a member of the negotiating team, told reporters in Riyadh.

Syria’s main opposition stuck by its demand on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad play no role in an interim period under any UN-sponsored peace deal, despite speculation it could soften its stance because of Assad’s battlefield strength.

“The participants stressed that this (the transition) cannot happen without the departure of Bashar al Assad and his clique at the start of the interim period,” opposition groups said in a communique at the end of a meeting in Saudi Arabia.

The opposition groups held the meeting to seek a unified position ahead of UN-backed peace talks, after two year of Russian military intervention that has helped Assad’s government recapture all of Syria’s major cities.

The communique said the participants supported a UN based political process that would allow Syria to undergo “a radical political transition” from an “authoritarian system” to a democracy where free elections would be upheld.

The final communiqué included the following points:

- Begin negotiations without preconditions
- The reference to negotiation is the decisions of the Riyadh Conference
- Resolving the crisis in accordance with international resolutions
- Rejecting regional and international interventions, led by Iran
- The departure of Iranian-backed fighters
- Iran is making demographic changes and spreading terrorism
- denouncing Iran's role in destabilizing the region
- Emphasize accountability for war crimes
- Sustaining State institutions, including security and reform

The meeting of over 140 participants from a broad spectrum of the mainstream opposition, including independents and Free Syrian Army military factions, also blamed the Syrian government for the lack of progress in Geneva-based talks held in the past.

“The political process has not achieved its goal because of the regime’s violations,” the communique said, citing the bombing of civilian areas, the siege of rebel held areas and the detention of tens of thousands of dissidents.

Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s worst refugee crisis, driving more than 11 million people from their homes.

There had been speculation that the opposition could soften its demands that Assad leave power before any transition at the meeting. Riyad Hijab, an opposition hardliner who led the High Negotiations Committee that represented the opposition at previous rounds of negotiations, abruptly quit this week.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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