The Times West Virginian

Headline News

January 19, 2014

Syrian opposition to attend peace conference

ISTANBUL — The main, Western-backed Syrian opposition group voted Saturday in favor of attending a coming peace conference aimed at ending the country’s bloody civil war, paving the way for the first direct talks between the rival sides in the nearly three-year conflict.

The vote in Istanbul came as food supplies began entering a besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp in Syria’s capital for the first time in months, an apparent goodwill gesture by President Bashar Assad’s government ahead of the peace conference, Palestinian and United Nations officials said.

The Syrian National Coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks, scheduled to open Wednesday in the Swiss city of Montreux. The Syrian government has already said it will attend the U.N.-sponsored talks.

The Coalition’s leader, Ahmad al-Jarba, said in a speech late Saturday that they are heading to the conference “without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad’s regime.”

“The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution — at the top of them removing the butcher from power,” Jarba said.

But many Coalition members are hesitant to attend a conference that has little chance of success and will burn the last shred of credibility the group has with powerful rebels on the ground, who reject the talks. Many members boycotted the Istanbul meetings that began on Friday, forcing the Coalition’s legal committee to approve the decision in a simple majority vote.

Although Islamic rebel groups reject any talks with the government, the head of the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, Gen. Salim Idris, said in a statement that he backs “a solution that guarantees a political transition of power.”

He called upon Coalition officials heading to Geneva to demand that Assad and his top officials leave power, have no role in Syria’s future and set up a transitional government “with full powers” that include control of security agencies and open corridors to allow food into besieged areas.

Maj. Issam el-Rayyes, a spokesman for the Syrian Revolutionary Front, also said they back a political solution that would include Assad leaving power.

The Coalition’s media office said there were 58 votes in favor of attending the conference and 14 votes against. It added that there were two abstentions and one blank ballot.

The aim of the conference, dubbed Geneva 2, is to agree on a roadmap for Syria based on one adopted by the U.S., Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.

The U.S. and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year and it has been repeatedly delayed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together on the negotiations table after dropping some of their conditions.

One of the main demands of the opposition was that Assad agrees to step down before going to the conference. With his government troops keeping their momentum on the ground, Assad’s government has said he will not surrender power and may run again in elections due in mid-2014.

It will be the first face-to-face meeting between the representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition since the country’s crisis began in March 2011. Activists say the fighting has killed more than 130,000 people while displacing millions.

The U.S. and France welcomed the Coalition’s vote.   

“This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Assad regime and a civil war without end,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius applauded the vote in a statement as a “courageous choice, despite provocations and exactions of the regime.”

Meanwhile Saturday, some 200 food parcels were sent into the Yarmouk camp outside of Damascus, said Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. Gunness said the Syrian government requested the delivery.

Yarmouk is one of the areas hardest hit by food shortages in Syria. Residents there say 46 people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists around the country, said an elderly man died in the camp earlier Saturday because of the food shortage.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Anwar Raja, a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said hundreds of boxes of food entered the camp. He said much of the material was carried by members of PFLP-GC members and committees in the camp.

“The process is moving slowly since they are being carried on the shoulder to avoid sniper fire,” Raja told The Associated Press in Damascus by telephone.

PFLP-GC members are fighting against Syrian opposition fighters who control most of the camp.

Gunness said the U.N. laid down an express condition that the food “must be distributed exclusively to civilians in need of assistance” and that fighters shouldn’t receive it. He also said the area should be opened for regular access by humanitarian groups.

Meanwhile Saturday, violence continued. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a government air raid on the northern city of Aleppo killed 23 people.

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Labor Department cuts levels of allowable coal dust

    The Obama administration said Wednesday it is cutting the amount of coal dust allowed in coal mines in an effort to help reduce black lung disease.
    “Today we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Obama offers Japan security, economic assurances

    Facing fresh questions about his commitment to Asia, President Barack Obama will seek to convince Japan’s leaders Thursday that he can deliver on his security and economic pledges, even as the crisis in Ukraine demands U.S. attention and resources elsewhere.

    April 24, 2014

  • Supreme Court: Michigan affirmative action ban OK

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • Court critical of law punishing campaign lies

    The Supreme Court appears to be highly skeptical of laws that try to police false statements during political campaigns, raising doubts about the viability of such laws in more than 15 states.

    April 23, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has ‘days, not weeks’ to follow by an international accord for Ukraine

    Russia has “days, not weeks” to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine, the top U.S. diplomat in Kiev warned Monday as Vice President Joe Biden launched a high-profile show of support for the pro-Western Ukrainian government. Russia in turn accused authorities in Kiev of flagrantly violating the pact and declared their actions would not stand.

    April 22, 2014

  • U.S. weighing military exercises

    The United States is considering deploying about 150 soldiers for military exercises to begin in Poland and Estonia in the next few weeks, a Western official said Saturday. The exercises would follow Russia’s buildup of forces near its border with Ukraine and its annexation last month of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

    April 21, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • Governor: Closing Boston amid bomber hunt ‘tough’

    Several days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Gov. Deval Patrick received a call in the pre-dawn hours from a top aide telling him that police officers outside the city had just engaged in a ferocious gun battle with the two men suspected of setting the bombs and that one was dead and the other had fled.

    April 20, 2014

  • Everest avalanche reminder of risks Sherpas face

    The rescuers moved quickly, just minutes after the first block of ice tore loose from Mount Everest and started an avalanche that roared down the mountain, ripping through teams of guides hauling gear.
    But they couldn’t get there quickly enough.

    April 20, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads