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Geneva in Doubt without Military Clout

Plans for high-level Syrian peace talks have stumbled this week, with the U.S.-backed Syrian National Council undecided on whether to attend and how to engage the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Written by Alison Tahmizian Meuse Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes

 Reuters reports that talks could be delayed, as the U.S.-led effort struggles to convene warring parties as scheduled on Nov. 23.

On the ground in Syria, the challenges to a negotiated peace are just as stiff.

Over the weekend key rebel factions locked in battle with the Assad regime rejected the Geneva II peace talks, throwing the political opposition into a quandary and making activists take a tough stance on the path towards a resolution of the bloody conflict.

On Saturday, 19 powerful Syrian rebel groups issued a statement opposing Geneva talks in their current form. The signatories included the Army of Islam as well as the Tawhid and Ahfad al-Rasoul brigades, whose leaders are members of the Western-backed Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the Free Syrian Army.

“We consider this [conference] part of a conspiracy to undermine and abort the revolution of the Syrian people,” the statement said, adding that there could be no solution without the removal of [President Bashar al-Assad] and his security and military apparatus.

“We consider attending Geneva II and negotiating with the regime on any basis … as betrayal requiring trial in court,” it said.

“We refused to participate in this conference, because of the regime’s insistence on murder,” said Colonel Abdel Jabar Okaidi, the influential head of the Free Syrian Army’s Aleppo military council. “There can be no dialogue when the bombing and killing and destruction continues.”

He downgraded prospects for an immediate political solution in Syria, telling Syria Deeply that Geneva II would not result in tangible results on the ground.

Hardline jihadist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Jabhat al-Nusra, both al-Qaida affiliates, are openly hostile to the opposition Coalition and would not be included in such negotiations.

Civilians in Syria had mixed views on the potential impact of peace talks, reflecting the disenchantment of a civilian population that has endured more than two years of conflict.

Jenna, an activist from Homs, backs the Geneva process and the opposition leadership it intends to convene.

“The Coalition does not have as bad a reputation inside the country as people think. It will be 1,000 times better if the Coalition attends Geneva than [others] who do not have any political experience or background,” she said.

“Dialogue and negotiations with the regime are necessary, especially now, after we have endured three years of murder and destruction of the country by Assad’s forces without the international community raising a finger,” said Ahmed, an activist in Zabadani.

“The life of any Syrian inside [the country] is more important than stubbornness and chanting of futile slogans [abroad],” he added.

For Mahmoud from Homs, personal loss led him to a tougher line on dialogue.

“Four days ago, two of my friends, who were like brothers, had their legs amputated after being hit by a mortar shell. This event changed how I look at all revolutions,” he said.

“There will be a political solution only when Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Haq and the Army of Islam sit with the regime at the same table. The Coalition and the Free Syrian Army are very weak when compared to these factions,” he said.

Harith Abdel Haq, the official spokesman for Liwa al-Tawhid, echoed Ahmed’s stance, arguing that without the right representatives, decisions made in Geneva would not be implemented on the ground.

Tawhid Brigade, he said, had not been offered a seat at the negotiating table.

But Haq did not dismiss all prospects for negotiation.

“In any conflict,” he told Syria Deeply, “there is a political solution in the end.”

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