Rebel groups say pro­posed peace talks may be ‘last chance’

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY DIAA HA­DID

and might be the last chance to re­solve the cri­sis in Syria,” said the Coali­tion of Forces for Peace­ful Change.

Ear­lier in the day, Syria’s main Western-backed op­po­si­tion group in ex­ile, the Syr­ian Na­tional Coali­tion, said it, too, sup­ports the Geneva talks and in­tends to at­tend them this year.

Nei­ther of the groups, how­ever, has much in­flu­ence over the dis­parate armed fac­tions fight­ing to over­throw Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. The Syr­i­abased op­po­si­tion in­cludes of­fi­cials close to the govern­ment, in­tel­lec­tu­als and par­ties that have op­posed Mr. As­sad’s Baath Party for decades. The ex­iled group ranges from sec­u­lar in­tel­lec­tu­als to Is­lamic ac­tivists.

In its state­ment Mon­day, the ex­iled coali­tion said it would at­tend the Geneva talks only if hu­man­i­tar­ian aid is al­lowed to reach be­sieged ar­eas and the govern­ment re­leases po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. The group wants any tran­si­tional govern­ment to ex­clude Mr. As­sad and his close al­lies — a de­mand the Syr­ian govern­ment has re­jected.

The pro­posed Geneva con­fer­ence faces a se­ries of ob­sta­cles: The most pow­er­ful and best-armed rebel groups aren’t party to the talks, and most fight­ing units are dis­or­ga­nized bands with lit­tle cen­tral com­mand or lead­er­ship. Even if an agree­ment is reached in Geneva, it is un­clear whether it will be ac­cepted on the ground.

As diplo­mats try to con­vene peace talks, the fight­ing has raged on.

In the lat­est blow to rebel fight­ers, govern­ment forces took the town of Tel Aran and other po­si­tions in the north­ern prov­ince of Aleppo, state me­dia said, a day af­ter they con­sol­i­dated con­trol of a key mil­i­tary base held by rebels since Fe­bru­ary.

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