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
  • West Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

    The worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 deaths in West Africa as the World Health Organization on Thursday announced dozens of new fatalities.

    July 31, 2014

  • Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

    A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.

    July 31, 2014

  • Obama takes tougher line against casualties in Gaza

    The Obama administration condemned the deadly shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza Wednesday, using tough, yet carefully worded language that reflects growing White House irritation with Israel and the mounting civilian casualties stemming from its ground and air war against Hamas.

    July 31, 2014

  • House approves VA overhaul

    The House overwhelmingly approved a landmark bill Wednesday to help veterans avoid long waits for health care that have plagued the Veterans Affairs Department for years.
    The $16.3 billion measure also would allow the VA to hire thousands of doctors and nurses and rewrite employment rules to make it easier to fire senior executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly.

    July 31, 2014

  • Contract dispute delays ‘Big Bang Theory’ production

    Production on a new season of “The Big Bang Theory” is being delayed because of a contract dispute with its top actors.

    July 30, 2014

  • What’s a group selfie? An usie

    What do you call a group selfie? An usie, of course!

    July 30, 2014

  • Senate changes House bill for highway funds

    The Senate on Tuesday voted to change the funding and timing of a House bill to keep federal highway funds flowing to states in an effort to force Congress to come to grips with chronic funding problems that have plagued transportation programs in recent years.

    July 29, 2014

  • State close to national average in credit card debt

    Credit card debt may have reached its lowest level in a decade, but according to a recent study on personal debt vs. income, just as more people are paying off their credit card debt monthly, nearly the same number of people are being reported for unpaid bills.

    July 29, 2014

  • New VA secretary confirmed by Senate

    The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary, with a mission to overhaul an agency beleaguered by long veterans’ waits for health care and VA workers falsifying records to cover up delays.

    July 29, 2014

  • W.Va. man arrested after child found in hot car

    A Wheeling man faces charges that he left his 18-month-old daughter in a hot car while he was asleep on a couch.

    July 29, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads