Britain urges Syrian opposition not to ‘give up’ on talks


Britain on Saturday urged Syria’s umbrella opposition to reconsider pulling out of international meetings on the crisis, insisting “now is not the time to give up” on talks.

The National Coalition withdrew from the meetings in protest about the international “silence,” condemning world powers for failing to stop the slaughter in Syria, as missiles killed at least 29 in the second city of Aleppo.

Britain said it was “essential” to keep dialogue going between international powers and the coalition, which is trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

“The UK is preparing a further offer of support to the National Coalition in Rome, and we are urging them to reconsider their decision,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman told AFP.

“It is important to have coalition participation, and we strongly urge members to help win the arguments for achieving more support for the opposition.

“The coalition is making progress; it is not easy, but now is not the time to give up,” the spokeswoman said.

“We share a common frustration about the situation in Syria and the horrors being perpetrated by the Assad regime.

“We strongly believe that the international community and the National Coalition need to work closely together to address the situation. That makes it essential that we continue to have a constructive dialogue.”

Syria’s opposition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib on Saturday slammed world governments for failing to act to stop the bloodshed in Syria, nearly two years into a war that has left some 70,000 people dead.

Khatib made the remarks as he took part in Cairo in a demonstration which he described as “a message of protest to all governments of the world, Arab and non-Arab, that can see how the Syrian people are being killed, while they merely look on.”

“All the administrations of the world can see what is happening... We cannot visit any country until there is a clear decision on this savage, aggressive regime,” Khatib told the Dubai-based Al-Aan pan-Arab television in Cairo.

Meanwhile, opposition spokesman Walid al-Bunni said on Saturday after his National Coalition canceled visits to Rome, Moscow and Washington that the United States must honor promises of support for democracy in Syria.

"Our visit to Washington is on hold until Washington takes a stance that is in accordance with U.S. statements on its support for democracy," Bunni told France 24's Arabic-language channel.

"The United States is a leading force in the world, as are France, Britain and the European Union. All these have been unable to stop a butcher from committing massacres against our people," he said, referring to Syrian President Assad.

The opposition National Coalition announced late on Friday that the bloc will be pulling out of a Friends of Syria meeting in Rome and scheduled talks in Russia and the United States.

The move, the opposition group said, was to protest the lack of international condemnation of the “crimes committed against the Syrian people.”

“The international silence on the crimes committed every day against our people amounts to participating in two years of killings,” the statement added.

It singled out Russia in particular over Moscow’s support for President Assad’s regime.

“Hundreds of defenseless civilians are being killed by Scud missiles and the destruction of Aleppo, the city of history and civilization, continues in a systematic manner,” it added.

“In protest against this shameful international position, the coalition leadership has decided to suspend its participation in the Rome meeting of the Friends of Syria.”

The meeting had been scheduled for an unspecified date next month.

“We hold the Russians leaders in particular ethically and politically responsible because they continue to support the (Damascus) regime with weapons,” the National Coalition added.

No visits

The statement also said the opposition coalition was turning down invitations to visit Washington and Moscow to protest what it described as international silence over destruction of the ancient city of Aleppo by Syrian missile strikes.

“Hundreds or civilians have been killed by Scud missile strikes. Aleppo, the city and the civilization, is being destroyed systematically,” the statement said.

“The Russian leadership especially bears moral and political responsibility for supplying the regime with weapons,” it added, referring to Moscow’s status as a leading ally of Syrian President Assad.

The invitations had been extended to opposition coalition leader after he met the Russian and U.S. foreign ministers in Munich this month.

The invitations were made shortly after Khatib offered to negotiate Assad’s departure with members of the Syrian government who were not tainted by having participated in the crackdown on the 23-month-long revolt.

Rocket attacks on eastern districts of Aleppo, Syria’s industrial and commercial hub, killed at least 29 people on Friday and trapped a family of 10 in the ruins of their home, opposition activists in the city said.

On Tuesday activists said at least 20 people were killed when a large missile hit the rebel-held district of Jabal Badro, also in the east of the contested city.