Russia-Backed Syria Opposition Sees No Future Role for Assad

  • Cairo Group accepts Assad in transitional phase without power
  • Russia-endorsed Cairo Group road map presented to UN envoy

President Bashar al-Assad has “no place” in the future of Syria, though he can stay in office during a transitional period without powers, a Russian-backed opposition group said.

“There is no place for the regime in the future of Syria,” Jihad Makdassi, a former Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman who now heads the Cairo Group of opposition figures, said in an interview in Geneva on Thursday. “But during the transition period we are not putting a precondition on Assad’s departure if we have to save a political deal.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said last week that his government supports the group’s proposals for the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers if the Syrian people endorse it, according to Russia’s state broadcaster RT. The Cairo Group’s road map, handed to the United Nations envoy for Syria on April 14, points to the impossibility of “the continuation of the current regime and its president.”

Syria’s peace talks are in crisis after the main opposition group quit the negotiations earlier this week in protest at an upsurge of violence that is threatening to sink a two-month cease-fire. The High Negotiations Committee backed by Saudi Arabia says it won’t return until the government halts its attacks, allows access for aid and starts to free detainees.

Heavy Strikes

The Syrian government launched the heaviest airstrikes on Aleppo on Friday since the Feb. 27 cease-fire, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Strikes hit several neighborhoods in the city, once Syria’s commercial hub, wounding several people, the monitoring group said in an e-mailed statement.

Russia, which has been waging an air campaign in Syria for six months in support of Assad, has defended the offensive around Aleppo as a response to “provocations” by an al-Qaeda wing. The HNC blamed government forces backed by Russia and Iran for the near-collapse of the truce and warned they are seeking to seize control of the city.

Armed opposition groups that have signed the cease-fire must end their ties with the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to avoid getting attacked, Alexei Borodavkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, who represents his country at Syria peace talks, said in an interview.

UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who is chairing the peace negotiations, on Friday called for an urgent international meeting to rescue the truce. De Mistura told reporters in Geneva that he would continue the peace talks until the middle of next week despite the walk-out by the HNC, adding that the bloc was continuing to hold “technical” discussions.

Limited Powers

De Mistura put forward an idea last week for Assad to remain in office during the transitional phase with limited powers and three vice presidents appointed by the opposition, which the HNC immediately rejected.

The five-year civil war has killed 400,000 people, forced millions from their homes, sparked Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War II and enabled Islamic State to gain control of territory from which it plotted terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

Syria has said opposition calls for Assad to leave the office he’s held since 2000 are a “red line.” The Syrian leader is offering opposition figures he considers acceptable a limited role in a national unity government.

The HNC says that neither the embattled president nor close associates who have been involved in killing Syrian citizens can remain in power during a transitional phase. The Cairo Group’s position is that after the interim phase, Assad and all those who committed “atrocities” have to leave office, Makdassi said.

"De Mistura has to come up with his ideas. We have all put forward our visions and he should find the common denominators,” he said.

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