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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syrian Opposition Groups in Disarray

May 29, 2013

by Edward Yeranian, Lisa Schlein

A group of Syria-based opposition factions has accused the main opposition coalition-in-exile of failing to represent the Syrian people, in a sign of further disarray among opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

The four opposition factions issued a statement Wednesday threatening to withdraw recognition from the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition unless it expands its membership to include "revolutionary forces" inside Syria.

The Syria-based groups said the sharply-divided SNC has failed to represent the two-year old anti-Assad rebellion at the "organizational, political and humanitarian levels."

The statement came as SNC members struggled to reach any agreements on future strategy despite holding more than a week of meetings in Istanbul.

Internal disputes about the coalition's membership and leadership have prevented it from taking a unified position on a U.S. and Russian proposal for the Syrian government and opposition to join a peace conference.

On the front lines, rebel commanders inside Syria are blasting both the opposition leaders and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, which is fighting against them in scattered pockets across the country.

Talks at standstill

Days of negotiations among opposition leaders meeting in Istanbul appear to be at a standstill, with the politicians unable to unite around a single leader or a unified council.

“We never succeeded to bring them around one point - one point," said analyst Oraib Rantawi of the Al-Quds Center in Amman. "And when they left the meeting room, they started to talk about each other in a very bad way: traitors, agents, corrupted and all of these for God's sake; exclusion, they don't want this, they don't want that."

Rantawi says opposition leaders should spend less time quarreling and focus on nation building.

“They keep saying: 'We have three quarters of Syria liberated,"' he said. "For God's sake, if it is liberated and safe, why are you hanging around? Go there. Go and work with your people if it is safe."

Several foreign envoys arrived at the opposition meeting on Wednesday to try to get the talks moving. They include Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, and a top French diplomat on Syria.

UN condemnation

Meanwhile in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council went into an emergency session on Syria on Wednesday to debate a draft resolution to end fighting around the strategic town of Qusair.

The draft, referring to Hezbollah, Lebanon’s militant Shi'ite group, condemned the presence of foreign fighters siding with the government of President Bashar al-Assad as a serious threat to regional security.

But Syria's government was not without its supporters.

Before the proceedings began, the Russian representative objected to holding a special session on Syria, saying the matter could be handled as part of regular business.

But he was quickly overruled and the debate began with a speech by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. She strongly condemned what she termed atrocities being committed by both government and rebel forces against civilians.

“In the run-up to the proposed International Conference on Syria in Geneva, states - especially those with influence on the combatants - must collectively act to stop this dreadful conflict from getting even worse," she said.

The United States, which together with Turkey and Qatar requested the special session, also condemned recent government air strikes on Qusair.

“The assault on Qusair is the latest in the regime’s attempt to use sectarian-driven war to divide the Syrian people," said U.S. Ambassador to the council Eileen Donahoe.

Syrian response

The Syrian ambassador, Faysal Khabbaz Hamaoui, denounced what he called the cynical and biased attitude of council members. He said no massacres have occurred in Qusair. He accused Jihadist groups of terrorizing the people.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said Syria helped civilians to leave the town under the protection of Syrian troops.

"It gave the armed people a chance to give up their weapons and to leave the town without harm," he said. "However, some of them under orders from Qatar and Turkey were determined to continue the fight, holding thousands of civilians as human shields.”

Russia's foreign minister said Wednesday that the U.N. body's debate would hamper efforts to organize a peace conference on Syria. He said he was surprised to see the U.S. among the authors of the resolution, saying it runs contrary to the U.S. pledge to help organize the peace conference.

VOA's Michael Lipin contributed to this report from Washington. Lisa Schlein reported from Geneva and Edward Yeranian reported from Cairo.

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