Syrian opposition agrees to attend talksReuters . Silivri, Turkey
Syria’s main political opposition group in exile agreed on Saturday to attend internationally sponsored peace talks, and said for the first time three rebel fighting forces also wanted to take part.
The agreement by the Syrian National Coalition — and the chance of fighters backing the process — will be a boost for Western supporters of the ‘Geneva 2’ talks seen as the most serious global effort yet to end the near three-year conflict.
National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi said the Soldiers of the Levant, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and the Mujahideen Army all wanted ‘to have some representation within the delegation’ at the talks on Wednesday in Montreux.
It was not immediately clear what role they might play.
‘This brave choice, despite the provocations and acts of violence by the regime, is a choice to search for a peaceful solution,’ the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said on Saturday.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, called it ‘a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Assad regime and a civil war without end.’
The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said he welcomed the participation of the opposition groups.
‘I look forward to the opposition’s expedited formation of a delegation that broadly represents the diversity of the Syrian opposition, including women,’ he said in a statement.
The Coalition decision had been delayed repeatedly as more than 40 members threatened to leave the body, and eventually shunned the vote.
Rebel brigades had previously rejected Geneva — demanding the removal of Assad before talks. Their support is seen as critical if any deals have any chance of being rolled out.
All three are established forces, through restrictions on journalists in Syria makes it impossible to give independent estimates of their size.
A fourth fighting group, the Islamic Front — thought to be bigger than the other three combined — was still deciding whether to attend, Safi added.
Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, increasingly involved in the fighting, have shown no interest in a political process.
The fractured National Coalition itself has little influence on the ground in Syria.
Major Isam el Rayyes, spokesman of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, confirmed his group was now interested.
‘The Syrian Revolutionaries Front and two other major fronts want to be represented at Geneva but we will not send our brigade leaders,’ he said.
There was no immediate comment from the other two.
Coalition discussions to appoint a delegation were set to go into the night. Sources said meetings with the Islamic Front were also taking place in Istanbul.
Western powers had pressed the opposition to commit to the talks and on Saturday France welcomed the Coalition’s decision, vowing to make sure the discussions ended up setting up a transitional Syrian government with full executive powers.
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