CAIRO- International efforts to unite Syria’s opposition were blown up as plans for an Arab League-sponsored conference to unite Syria’s opposition collapsed on Tuesday and international envoys found themselves the only participants in a meeting that the main opposition parties decided to boycott.
The breakdown of the conference highlights the extent to which the six-point plan of Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy charged with finding a peaceful resolution to the more than year-long Syrian conflict, has run into trouble.
The Cairo meeting was billed as a significant effort to bring the disparate opposition groups together as a first step towards a dialogue with the regime on a political transition, as stipulated in the Annan plan.
The Arab League issued a statement on Tuesday saying the meeting had been postponed.
A prominent dissident resigned from the Syrian National Council (SNC) on Tuesday, Reuters reported, dealing another blow to the opposition organization that has seen several senior figures quit in the last few months.
The resignation of Fawaz Tello came hours after the council’s general secretariat, a body of 45 of who 33 were present, re-elected Burhan Ghalioun as president for a three-month term at a meeting in Rome organized by the Italian government.
A shaky ceasefire negotiated by Mr. Annan has reduced the level of violence and the shelling of towns by government forces but brutal repression has continued as have attacks on regime targets by an increasingly militarized opposition.
UN observers on the ground have also come under attack. On Tuesday, a convoy of four cars was struck by an improvised explosive device near the city of Hama, according to UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.
Another aspect of the Annan plan – the provision of humanitarian aid – has also been stymied by Syrian government insistence on managing the delivery of aid.
Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, on Monday voiced scepticism about the Annan mission, which was the result of a compromise between western powers and Russia and China, the two UN permanent members of the Security Council that have backed the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
“The violence continues ... nobody is satisfied,” Prince Saud said. “Confidence in the efforts of the envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League has started to decrease quickly.”
Diplomats said the Syrian opposition was undermining itself by failing to show up in Cairo, giving the regime a perfect excuse to claim that it has no partner with which to negotiate.
“The question is whether the opposition is unify-able and I have my doubts,” said one diplomat involved in discussions with dissident groups. For the regime, he added, the collapse of the Cairo conference was a “golden opportunity.”
Opposition activists, however, say the Annan plan is designed to force them into an unacceptable compromise with the regime, when the position of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition grouping, all along has been that it opposes talks that do not involve President al-Assad stepping down.
SNC officials insist that at the very least, the regime must first implement other aspects of the Annan plan, including ending its attacks on civilians and releasing prisoners, before any dialogue begins.
But the boycott of the Cairo conference reflects chronic disunity among the opposition as much as it does a lack of confidence in the implementation of the Annan plan.
The SNC complained earlier this week that the Arab League had invited individuals to the Cairo conference rather than the group, undermining its status as an organization.
Earlier, Syria`s National Coordination Committee (NCC) official Haytham Manna, a leading opposition figure, said that the NCC would boycott and would not take part in talks sponsored by the Arab League aimed to get Syrian opposition groups get united.
The General Council for the Syrian Revolution, a smaller opposition group, meanwhile also decided to stay away from the meeting because it saw it as an attempt to bring all other dissident organizations under the SNC’s wing.
The controversy over the Cairo conference is likely to intensify tensions between the opposition and western powers, with each side blaming the other for a lack of progress.
But it reflects above all the dilemma of large parts of the opposition, which had been hoping for international military action to dislodge Syria`s President Bashar al-Assad from power.
With no appetite for a Libya-style mission in Syria, and western powers rallying around the Annan plan, many dissidents have instead found themselves forced into a process that provides no guarantee for the departure of President al-Assad`s regime.
The meeting in Cairo was part of the Arab League’s attempts to bring a fragmented opposition together on a common platform. It is also designed to prepare for dialogue with the regime, a step that is part of the six-point plan of Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy charged with finding a peaceful resolution to the more than year-long Syrian conflict.
The breakdown of the conference highlights the extent to which the six-point plan of Kofi Annan has run into trouble.
Syria has been mired in violence since March 2011, when President Bashar al-Assad's forces began cracking down on anti-government demonstrators.
Syria’s uprising began as a peaceful protest movement but has become increasingly militarized as rebels began to fight back against a violent crackdown by Syria’s regime forces.
More than 9,000 people have been killed by security forces, who the government says have lost 2,600 dead at rebel hands.