The Irish Times

Armed rebels form largest group in Syria peace talks

More than 100 members of Syria’s political and armed opposition join talks

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Armed rebel groups are to make up the largest single grouping in a joint Syrian opposition body that would oversee talks with president Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to a list of names the factions drew up in Saudi Arabia this week.

Mr Assad said yesterday the United States and Saudi Arabia wanted “terrorist groups” to join peace talks proposed by world powers, and nobody in Syria would accept such talks.

The two-day Riyadh conference brought together more than 100 members of Syria’s fragmented political and armed opposition who agreed to work together to prepare for peace talks.

World powers have intensifie­d their push to end the nearly five-year war, calling for talks to start by January.

Negotiatin­g team

The Riyadh conference has agreed to set up a 34-member secretaria­t to supervise peace talks, and that committee will also select the opposition’s negotiatin­g team.

It includes 11 representa­tives of rebel fighting groups, according to the list of names proposed for the body, making armed factions the biggest single grouping.

Behind them are nine members of the exiled political opposition, six from Syria’s internal, mainly Damascus-based opposition and eight independen­ts.

Powerful Islamist insurgent group Ahrar al-Sham is represente­d, along with a number of Free Syrian Army groups that have received military support from states opposed to Assad, such as Saudi Arabia and the US.

Ahrar’s founders included militants with links to al-Qaeda, although the group espouses a Syrian nationalis­t platform.

The president of the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Khaled al-Khoja, is also on the list, as well as two former heads, Ahmed Jarba and Moaz Alkhatib, who is included as an independen­t.

The SNC is the main western-backed political opposition, although it has had only tenuous links with rebels on the ground and is seen as out of touch with the general population.

Diplomatic efforts

Major powers agreed in Vienna last month to revive diplomatic efforts to end the war, including calling for elections within two years.

Mr Assad’s fate was one of several questions left unresolved at the Vienna meeting, which was attended by Russia, the US, European and Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back opposing sides in Syria. – (Reuters)

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