Syria Rebels Denounce Exile Leaders as UnrepresentativeDonna Abu-Nasr
Syrian rebel groups based inside the country accused the exiled opposition of failing to represent the movement fighting Bashar al-Assad, complicating Russian and U.S. efforts to convene peace talks between the warring sides.
The statement by four groups calling themselves the Revolutionary Movement in Syria also demanded half the leadership positions within the National Coalition.
The six-month-old exiled grouping “is unable to fulfill its obligations due to the ongoing discord among the different parties represented,” according to a statement on the website of the Local Coordination Committees.
The comments illustrate fractures within the Syrian opposition movement even as the U.S. and Russia seek to agree a peace conference. The two countries are “deeply committed” to the idea, Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 27.
Even so, the international community remains divided on how to end Syria’s civil war. Russia is supplying Assad with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles even as the European Union, under pressure from Britain and France, have opened the way for arms shipments to rebels.
The EU decision creates “serious hurdles on the way to implementing an initiative to convene an international conference on Syria,” Lavrov said today in comments broadcast by state television.
The Revolutionary Movement statement hinted at concerns about how the peace talks might evolve, saying the sacrifices of the Syrian people must be honored, “particularly in light of the challenges posed by the Geneva 2 conference.”
The four groups that signed yesterday’s statement were the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Local Coordination Committees in Syria, the Syrian Revolution Coordinators’ Union and the Supreme Council for the Leadership of the Syrian Revolution. The groups are loosely linked to the main armed opposition group, the Free Syrian Army, but don’t speak for it.
The Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul declined to comment on the statement when contacted today.
Meanwhile, Assad’s troops and armor were reported to be massing, with fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group on the outskirts of Al-Qusair, a key town in central Syria that’s been subject to assault for almost two weeks.
“It looks like they’re preparing for a major offensive against the rebels,” Rami Abdurrahman, founder of the U.K.- based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a phone interview today. Rebel positions are under aerial and artillery bombardment, he said.
The rebel Tawheed Brigade in Aleppo called on the Lebanese government in a YouTube statement read by one of the fighters and posted on its Twitter account to restrain Hezbollah “or else we will be forced to move the battle to Lebanese territory.” He said his group has sent over 1,000 fighters to Al-Qusair.
In Tehran, Iran today opened a two-day conference on Syria. State news agencies said about 40 countries would attend including Russia, China, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq and Venezuela.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the conference that his country supports peace talks, which may be held in Geneva next month.
“There is a need to end arms shipments into Syria, a need to protect the borders of Syria and to prevent the dispatch of armed extremist groups into Syria,” he said.
‘Out of Control’
Russia wants Iran to attend peace talks while the U.S. objects because it says the Islamic republic provides Assad with weapons and military advisers and supports Hezbollah, which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist group.
“The conflict in Syria is spinning out of control,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told an emergency human rights meeting on Syria in Geneva today. “Government forces continue to carry out indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling and aerial attacks resulting in civilian deaths and injuries throughout the country,” including Al-Qusair, she said.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today that imposing a no-fly zone over Syria would require five or six times the military resources committed during the NATO-led campaign in Libya in 2011.
“Bashar al-Assad has 550 fighter planes,” Fabius said on France Inter radio. “France alone does not have the means.”