Key Syrian Rebel Group Turns Down Peace Talks
A key group within the opposition Syrian National Coalition said Sunday it would not attend proposed peace talks in Geneva and would quit the Coalition if it participated, AFP reported.
The decision deals a potential blow to international efforts to convene a peace conference in Geneva, which was first proposed for June but has been pushed back multiple times.
The president of the Syrian National Council, the biggest member of the opposition Coalition, told AFP on Sunday that it was impossible to carry out negotiations given the suffering of people on the ground.
"The Syrian National Council, which is the biggest bloc in the Coalition, has taken the firm decision... not to go to Geneva, under the present circumstances (on the ground)," George Sabra said.
"This means that we will not stay in the Coalition if it goes" to the peace talks, he added.
Western nations and Russia have been pushing the regime and the rebels to meet for talks on a negotiated solution to the two and a half year-old conflict, which has killed some 115,000 people.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to London on Sunday for talks that will include discussion of the Geneva conference with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria.
Sabra said the international community had failed to punish the regime for an August 21 sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of people.
Washington threatened to carry out military strikes in response to the attacks, which the United States and the Syrian opposition blamed on the regime.
But the punitive strikes were averted by a U.S.-Russian deal under which Syria is turning over its chemical arsenal for destruction.
The UN Security Council passed a resolution on September 27 backing a Russia-U.S. plan to destroy President Bashar Al-Assad's chemical weapons by mid-2014, thus averting an American strike.
The first members of an OPCW-UN team have since started work supervising the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons production facilities.
Syria has won praise from both the members of the mission as well as from the U.S. for its rapid compliance with the UN resolution.
"The international community has focused on the murder weapon, which is the chemical weapons, and left the murderer unpunished and forgotten the victims," Sabra told AFP.
"The regional and international context does not give the impression that Geneva 2 will offer anything to the Syrians," he added.
"We will not participate in a conference that is intended to hide the failure of international politics," he declared.
He also invoked the plight of Syrians in neighborhoods besieged by regime troops, including in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham, where he said residents were "dying of hunger."
Meanwhile on Sunday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that six of its aid workers and a member of the Syrian Red Crescent had been kidnapped by gunmen in Idlib, in northwestern Syria.
Also on Sunday, two car bombs exploded near Syria’s state television headquarters in central Damascus.
The building located at the Syrian capital’s Umayyad Square was damaged in the blast. Television broadcasts were interrupted for several minutes after the blasts.
Over the weekend, some 50 rebel fighters were killed, this time in skirmishes between jihadists and mainstream rebels in the Syrian city of Aleppo.