Syria op­po­si­tion warns of ‘un­re­al­is­tic’ Vi­enna plan

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BEIRUT: Syr­ian op­po­si­tion mem­bers yes­ter­day said an am­bi­tious plan by world pow­ers for a po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion in their war-rav­aged coun­try was un­re­al­is­tic, though some re­acted with cau­tious op­ti­mism. Global di­plo­mats gath­ered in Vi­enna agreed Satur­day on a fixed cal­en­dar for Syria that would see a tran­si­tion gov­ern­ment in six months and elec­tions within 18 months. A fi­nal state­ment af­ter the meet­ing said the goal was to bring Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and op­po­si­tion rep­re­sen­ta­tives to­gether by Jan 1.

Anas Al-Ab­deh, a mem­ber of the op­po­si­tion Na­tional Coali­tion, said the state­ment re­mained “un­clear” but marked some progress. “A cease­fire is in prin­ci­ple a good thing as it will al­le­vi­ate peo­ple’s suf­fer­ing. But the most im­por­tant thing is ob­serv­ing its im­ple­men­ta­tion,” he told AFP by tele­phone. But Samir Nashar, a fel­low Coali­tion mem­ber, de­rided the Vi­enna plan as “frus­trat­ing and un­re­al­is­tic”, in­sist­ing it “will not lead to a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion”. “How do they ex­pect that af­ter ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened in Syria, peo­ple will just kiss each other in the streets?” he said.

With mil­lions dis­placed and the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture dev­as­tated, Nashar said Syria would need much longer to hold free and fair elec­tions. He warned that the omis­sion from the Vi­enna state­ment of a key aim of the up­ris­ing - the de­par­ture of Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad - would strengthen claims by ji­hadist groups that the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is “con­spir­ing against the Syr­ian peo­ple”. “This was the big­gest blow... This is a gift to Daesh, to ex­trem­ism,” he said, us­ing the Ara­bic acro­nym for the Is­lamic State ji­hadist group.

‘Paving the Way’ for Peace

Yes­ter­day, a top Ira­nian of­fi­cial said sev­eral coun­tries in­volved in the peace talks had tried to bar As­sad from fu­ture elec­tions, but Tehran, a key backer of Syria’s regime, in­sisted the de­mand be with­drawn. As­sad’s de­par­ture has been the cen­tre­piece of op­po­si­tion de­mands since Syria’s up­ris­ing be­gan in 2011 and Western pow­ers - in­clud­ing the United States, France and Bri­tain - have called for him to step down. Satur­day’s talks in Vi­enna were the sec­ond round of the broad­ened diplo­matic ef­forts to reach an end to Syria’s war, which has left more than 250,000 peo­ple dead. Top di­plo­mats from 17 coun­tries as well as three in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions met the day af­ter a deadly co­or­di­nated as­sault claimed by IS in Paris left at least 129 peo­ple dead.

Has­san Ab­del Azim, the head of the Na­tional Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee for Demo­cratic Change, an in­ter­nal op­po­si­tion group, said Vi­enna had set out a “prac­ti­cal plan”. “Ev­ery­thing that hap­pens in Vi­enna, we agree with and is in line with the vi­sion of the NCCDC for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion,” he said. But he cau­tioned that the process re­mained “open to amend­ments”. Con­fi­dence-build­ing mea­sures, in­clud­ing a cease­fire, prisoner re­leases, and aid de­liv­er­ies were all “steps that pave the way for a tran­si­tional pe­riod, forming a gov­ern­ment, and hold­ing elec­tions,” Ab­del Azim said.

Cease­fire‘Far from Re­al­ity’

Though Syria’s con­flict be­gan with antigov­ern­ment protests, it has since frac­tured into a multi-front war be­tween the regime, rebels, Kurds, and ji­hadists, with shift­ing mil­i­tary al­liances through­out the coun­try. UN peace en­voy to Syria Staffan de Mis­tura was tasked, as part of the Vi­enna talks, with bring­ing about a cease­fire be­tween war­ring groups. But Fares Buyush, head of the Fur­san al-Haq rebel bri­gade fight­ing in north and north­west­ern Syria, said the de­ci­sions reached in Vi­enna were “far from re­al­ity” and that a cease­fire would be “very dif­fi­cult” to im­ple­ment.

And Asaad Hanna, a spokesman for the Di­vi­sion 101 rebel group, said Vi­enna’s goals - in­clud­ing a cease­fire - were di­vorced from the re­al­ity of forces fight­ing both IS and As­sad’s troops. “Just be­cause the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity holds a press con­fer­ence, it doesn’t mean they’re go­ing to stop Daesh,” Hanna said by phone. “The up­ris­ing is hap­pen­ing on the ground. How can the meet­ings ex­clude the de­ci­sion­mak­ers on the ground, who would be the ones im­ple­ment­ing the cease­fire?”— AFP

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