x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Syrian opposition government for rebel-held areas

National Coalition will choose prime minister on March 2

CAIRO // Syria's opposition said yesterday that they planned to form a government to run areas of the country "liberated" by rebels.

The announcement came as members of the 70-person Syrian National Coalition (SNC), were hashing out a document that outlines the group's conditions for negotiations.

"We agreed to form a government to run the affairs of the liberated areas," said Walid Al Bonni after a meeting in Cairo yesterday, adding that the coalition would meet in Istanbul on March 2 to decide the make-up of the planned government and choose a prime minister.

A draft seen by Reuters said Bashar Al Assad would have to be brought to trial and could not be part of any political solution.

Mr Al Assad told Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations peace envoy for Syria, that he intended to remain president until his term ended in 2014, and then stand for re-election.

There were questions over whether the SNC's proposals would gain support from rebel groups in Syria, many of whom oppose any negotiation with the regime. Other groups, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, have also said they do not support the SNC's initiative because they believe Mr Al Assad would not participate in any talks that required his exit.

The Syrian Islamic Front, a coalition of armed brigades, issued a statement rejecting any initiative that ignored the goal of "the downfall of the regime and its symbols".

The SNC discussions began on Thursday, the day a bomb in central Damascus killed more than 50 people and injured about 200 others. The government yesterday blamed Al Qaeda-linked groups in a letter to the United Nations.

The SNC blamed the Al Assad regime for creating the conditions for the attack, saying the government "has opened the doors for anarchy in Syria in order to justify committing heinous and unprecedented crimes against the innocent Syrian population".

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the United States had blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the attack in Damascus. "We see in it a very dangerous tendency by our American colleagues to depart from the fundamental principle of unconditional condemnation of any terrorist act, a principle which secures the unity of the international community in the fight against terrorism," hesaid.

A spokeswoman for the US mission at the UN denied the claims, saying the US "strongly condemn all indiscriminate terrorist attacks against civilians or against diplomatic facilities".


* With additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press