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Saving Syria conference (NCC)
Saving Syria conference (NCC)

Syria: Already Divided Opposition to convene on Sunday in Damascus

(Omar al-Shaar | )
DAMASCUS- An umbrella opposition group, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCC), said it has been preparing a conference on Sunday, September 23; that would have been the largest gathering of anti-regime representatives in the country since the uprising began.

Press reports said earlier that preparations are under way for a conference that Syrians will remember for a long time to come in the heart of the Umayyad capital. The conference is an attempt to save the country from the hysteria of daily violence and death, and return it to a mode conducive to starting a political process.

Most Syrian opposition groups reject any talks with the regime, saying they won't accept anything less than President Bashar al-Assad's departure from power and the dissolving of his regime's security agencies.

There has been international skepticism over the usefulness of holding such a conference given that it will be held in Damascus, under the roof of the regime. However, the opposition in Syria has ignored all skepticism and moved forward with preparations.

Hassan Abdul-Azim, the opposition leader, repeated that stance and said the opposition wants a "new regime that represents the will of the people."

He said his group will go ahead with the plans for Sunday's opposition conference despite the disappearance of the two leaders.

The gathering will also invite European ambassadors in Damascus, envoys from China and Russia, which back the regime.

The group has said two of its leaders disappeared after arriving at Damascus International Airport on Thursday, along with a friend who was to pick them up.

Abdul-Aziz al-Kheir and Ayas Ayyash were expected to take part in a conference Sunday in Damascus by some 20 Syrian groups that are calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. But they disappeared Thursday along with a friend who had picked them up at Damascus International Airport, the group said.

The group's head, Hassan Abdul-Azim, said by telephone that the regime was believed to be behind the disappearance.

It blamed the regime for the disappearance.

The state-run news agency SANA quoted the Interior Ministry as saying "terrorist groups" kidnapped the three, using the term it employs for rebels, and that a search has been launched.

The National Coordination Committee (NCC) — a key component of the opposition spectrum inside Syria — announced that the opposition conference will be held on Sunday [Sept. 23], as the Maan and Building The Syrian State (opposition) movements announced their withdrawal from the conference.

They claimed that some partners had taken unilateral measures and derailed the conference from its main objectives, which were the principal reason for calling for such a conference in the country.

The Building the Syrian State movement released a statement explaining the reason for its withdrawal:

“The aim of the conference was not to unify the opposition forces, but to enhance cooperation among the democratic forces to address the threats against the nation and citizens. Moreover, the aim was not to create a political polarity, or pit one against another.”

Safwan Akkash, representative of the NCC’s conference preparatory committee, said that the committee was working on ensuring the success of the conference, as they were gradually receiving more and more guarantees.

In an interview with As-Safir on Friday, Akkash talked about “guarantees from Russia and [United Nations envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi, in addition to guarantees we are seeking to obtain from the United Nations and other sides.”

Akkash said: “An invitation was sent to Brahimi, who expressed support for holding the conference and urged that it move forward with preparations. In his view, holding a successful conference would be a first step toward achieving the unity of the opposition and forming a realistic vision of the solution in Syria.”

Invitations have also been sent to representatives of several regional and international groups, and to several groups abroad, including the Syrian National Council (SNC). Akkash said it was unlikely that the SNC would take part in the conference since “they are fighting windmills, and they are planning for another conference and fighting ours."

According to Akkash, more than one opposition group had emerged since the start of the revolution and peaceful movements, but the groups were under two main banners: the NCC and SNC.

They have clear and specific differences, which are still crystallizing on issues related to foreign intervention, militarization, sectarianism etc., Akkash said.

He also noted that the forces of the revolutionary movements would be represented at the conference in one way or another — as was the case with the NCC’s first conference — in addition to intellectual and national youths, independent figures and peaceful activists.

Akkash hopes that the conference will be representative of all forces of the revolutionary movements. He said that the task of unifying the opposition was based on clear grounds depending on a solution that would achieve two things: Bringing down the regime along with all its symbols and components, and building a democratic Syria.

The concept of democratic national change, which seeks to unite the opposition parties, stemmed from these two points.

Akkash said: “It is normal for us to envision solutions for the problems [in Syria]. We have presented our visions to the Arab League, the United Nations and international powers. We have also presented a cease-fire initiative, which was welcomed by many forces [at street level], including some armed movements. The latter stipulated the regime’s approval of the initiatives, but the regime did not respond. Today, the situation is further deteriorating, and it is our duty to stop Syrian bloodshed while adhering to the principles and forces of the revolution.”

Speaking about the withdrawal of opposition movements from the conference, Akkash said: “The opposition forces have proved to be somewhat irresponsible. On the other hand, we must accept that [changes in allegiances] happen at critical times. We always see people parting ways, while others become new partners. We now have new partners, which include licensed parties and new youth forces. This reflects a state of political consciousness taking root.”

In contrast, he pointed out that “the empty promises of military interventions and no-fly zones, and the illusions that were sold to the [Syrian] people, have proven to be ineffective.”

Akkash underlined the importance of not confusing the opposition conference with Moscow’s proposal to hold a meeting between opposition groups and the regime.

“This conference aims to unify some opposition parties behind one vision for a political solution, which we believe is capable of saving the country,” he said. “We are not talking about holding negotiations or dialogue with the regime, which some are promoting in an intentional attempt to undermine the conference.”

Akkash welcomed “all international initiatives and constructive efforts to stop the daily bloodshed that is affecting hundreds and hundreds of thousands of refugees. We have entered the phase of humanitarian catastrophe.”

Participating Kurdish forces and movements believe that the goal of the conference is to start a general national dialogue with all parties rather than the regime, since holding dialogue with just the regime would include several requirements such as ending violence and achieving change while maintaining the structure of the state and its institutions.

The Kurdish parties have a special interest in highlighting the Kurdish issue. The existence of the Kurds is an important issue, and they are a key component of the Syrian national fabric. It is necessary to find a solution to their cause and recognize them under the constitution, within the framework of the unity of the country and the people.

An agreement on this issue will be reached with the new forces participating in the conference. The Kurds are a veteran opposition force with considerable political maturity, and (recent) circumstances have certainly played out in their favor.

Some Syrians had hoped that the conference might result in a unified opposition voice inside Syria that could credibly negotiate with the regime.

Syria's crisis began in March last year with anti-government demonstrations inspired by the Arab Spring and demanding reforms. The protests were met with a brutal crackdown by the regime. Syria later became embroiled in a civil war between forces fighting for President al-Assad and those trying to topple him.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday that nearly 30,000 Syrians have been killed during the 18-month uprising against the Assad regime. The observatory's count includes 20,935 civilians; 1,153 army defectors fighting alongside the rebels; and 7,141 Syrian troops fighting for the Assad regime—which gives a total of 29,229, said the head of the group, Rami Abdul-Rahman.

Another Syrian opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), put the overall death toll at 26,405. However, its count doesn't include Syrian troops killed in battle. The LCC relies on a network of activists in Syria to collect its information.

Meanwhile, activists have reported clashes and shelling in Damascus suburb and in different areas around Syria, with the fighting being most intense in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria's largest city and commercial capital.
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