x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Syria opposition may accept roles for members of Assad's ruling party

Abdulbaset Saida, the head of the Syrian National Council, said that opposition will not repeat a policy carried out in Iraq when members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were forced to leave their jobs.

BEIRUT // The leader of Syria's main opposition group said that he would not oppose a role for members of President Bashar Al Assad's ruling Baath party in the country's political future as long as they did not participate in killings during the uprising.

The comments by Syrian National Council (SNC) head Abdulbaset Saida appear to be a softening of the opposition's stance that it will accept nothing less than the complete removal of the Assad regime and the president's inner circle. He said that the Turkey-based SNC will meet next week in Qatar and will discuss, among other things, the possibility of Farouk Al Sharaa, the vice president, serving as interim leader if Mr Al Assad steps down.

Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said that Mr Al Sharaa was a figure "whose hands are not contaminated in blood" and therefore acceptable to Syrian opposition groups.

"We are with any solution that stops the killings in Syria and respect the ambitions of the Syrian people in what guarantees that there will be no return to dictatorship and tyranny in Syria," Mr Saida said by telephone from Turkey.

When asked about Mr Al Sharaa, Mr Saida said: "We have no information that he participated in the killings or gave orders but he belongs to the political leadership."

Syrian officials say Mr Al Assad will remain in his post until his seven-year term ends in 2014 followed by an election between Mr Al Assad and other candidates.

Also Monday, the UN's secretary-general made a strong appeal to halt the flow of arms into Syria and warned that the crisis threatens stability in the entire region. Ban Ki-moon said he is "deeply concerned" about the continued flow of arms to both the Syrian government and opposition forces, and said a "political solution" is "the only way out of the crisis".

Speaking at an international conference on democracy in Strasbourg, the UN chief described the escalating conflict along the Syrian-Turkish border and the effect on Lebanon as "extremely dangerous".

In his speech to the World Forum for Democracy, Mr Ban also said the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi would return to the region this week to continue international efforts seeking political transition in Syria.

Mr Saida said the Syrian opposition will not repeat a policy carried out in Iraq years ago when members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were forced to leave their jobs after his government was overthrown during the 2003 US-led invasion.

De-Baathification, a concept started under the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority which ruled Iraq after the invasion, was an Iraqi government policy of trying to purge important government jobs and positions of former mid and high-ranking members of the Baath party.

"We will not repeat the failed experience of de-Baathification," Mr Saida said. "We will just remove all its [Baath party's] illegitimate privileges and officials who committed crimes will be put on trial," he added. "The Baath party will practice its activities in accordance with the democratic process. We will not have a revenge policy and we will preserve state institutions."

Activists reported violence in different parts of the country, mostly in Homs, Aleppo, and the southern region of Deraa.

The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people were killed in the southern village of Karak what has been subjected to an attack by government troops. It said the 20 were killed when vehicles transporting wounded people were targeted by troops.

Activists estimate about 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old uprising that has morphed into a civil war.