Syria Opposition Rejects Idea for Assad to Keep Limited Role

  • Proposal calls for transition period with three deputies
  • Plan was floated at UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva

The main Syrian opposition group rejected an idea floated during United Nations-chaired peace talks that called for President Bashar al-Assad to remain in office for an interim period with limited powers and three deputies chosen from among his opponents.

The idea was put forward during a meeting on Friday in Geneva between the opposition High Negotiations Committee and a UN team led by its special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, according to the Saudi-backed group.

“There was no proposal, they were trying to see what the HNC will accept,” chief spokesman Salem al-Muslet said Saturday by telephone. The opposition won’t abandon its position of refusing to allow the Syrian leader or close associates who have been involved in killing Syrian citizens to remain during a transitional phase, al-Muslet said. “There is no way Assad will stay in power, no way the Syrians will accept that.”

Jessy Chahine, a spokeswoman for de Mistura, declined to comment on the confidential discussions. De Mistura will make a statement about the matter on Monday, Chahine said by phone.

“No one raised this issue with us and it is off the agenda,” Ali Daghman, a spokesman for the Syrian Mission to the UN in Geneva, said in a phone interview. Syria has dismissed opposition calls for the 50-year-old Assad to leave the office he’s held since 2000, describing that as a “red line.”

The Assad proposal was first reported by Al Jazeera television, which said it was based on ideas from experts. De Mistura hasn’t publicly suggested any plans for Assad’s future, which remains the toughest issue to overcome in the peace talks. The UN-sponsored negotiations are intended to lead to an interim power-sharing administration and culminate in elections in 2017 under a new constitution.

Five-Year Conflict

The five-year Syrian conflict, which has killed 250,000 people and forced millions from their homes, has sparked Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War II and given territory to Islamic State fighters from which to plot their deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The UN resumed what it called “crucially urgent” peace talks this week in Geneva, overshadowed by a renewed upsurge in violence, particularly around rebel-held Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous city. The opposition says at least 30,000 people have fled the area for the Turkish border.

The U.S., which together with Russia brokered a partial cease-fire seven weeks ago, has urged the Kremlin to use its influence on Assad to stop the Russian-backed offensive on Aleppo. Russia is continuing to back the Syrian leader after its air campaign that started in September succeeded in bolstering him.

Russia said earlier this week it was observing the truce and any military actions were in response to terrorist groups, including the al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front, which it said was amassing fighters south of Aleppo. The cease-fire doesn’t apply to Islamic State or Nusra.

Rejection

A senior Russian lawmaker rejected the U.S. pressure on Moscow to halt the Aleppo offensive.

“Let them first work out where Nusra and their clients are, and then they can ask us,” Alexei Pushkov, the head of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, said on his Twitter account.

Both Army of Islam and Ahrar as-Sham, rebel groups that signed up the truce, have had links with Nusra.

Ahrar as-Sham warned that that the Geneva talks -- which it has supported without participating directly -- are producing “extremely negative results for the revolution and Syrian people,” according to a statement on its Twitter account.

Assad’s forces backed by Russia and Iran are breaking the truce to achieve “strategic goals” while making “political advances” at the talks, the group said, accusing the HNC negotiators of failing to secure an end to the siege of rebel-held areas and the release of detainees.

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