A meeting for the Syrian opposition groups kicked off in Cairo on Monday mainly to discuss a new international plan for a transitional Syrian government. They are also expected to hold talks on Tuesday with Arab ministers in a bid to agree on a shared platform, Egyptian media and the Arab League said.
The Arab League chief called on the fragmented Syrian opposition to unite during the opening session of the meeting.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi addressed nearly 250 members of the Syrian opposition at the meeting on Monday in an effort to get disparate groups to pull together. It is the first time the Arab League hosts a meeting of the Syrian opposition.
Arabi said the opposition “must not miss this opportunity” to unite, adding that the Syrian people are more valuable than any factional disagreements.
Syria-based rebel fighters and activists earlier on Monday said they would boycott the opposition meeting in Cairo, denouncing it as a “conspiracy” that served the policy goals of Damascus allies Moscow and Tehran.
“We refuse all kinds of dialogue and negotiation with the killer gangs ... and we will not allow anyone to impose on Syria and its people the Russian and Iranian agendas,” said a statement signed by the rebel Free Syrian Army and “independent” activists.
The signatories criticized the agenda of the Cairo talks for “rejecting the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people ... and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters.”
The boycotting groups said the talks follow the “dangerous decisions of the Geneva conference, which aim to safeguard the regime, to create a dialogue with it and to form a unity government with the assassins of our children.”
“The Cairo conference aims to give a new chance to (U.N.-Arab League) envoy Kofi Annan to try again to convince Assad to implement his six-point plan. .. while forgetting that thousands have been martyred since the plan came into force,” they said.
No transition in the presence of Assad
Reema Flaihan, spokesperson of the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), had told Al Arabiya that the responsible committee has prepared a document for the transitional period, which has been signed by the different opposition members.
According to reports, the opposition figures will most probably reject any discussion of a national unity government in the presence of President Bashar al-Assad.
On the ground, as many as 77 people have been killed in violent crackdown on dissent across the country on Sunday.
The Syrian opposition on Sunday branded an international plan for a transition in strife-torn Syria a failure, as the death toll mounted.
World powers meeting in Geneva on Saturday agreed that the transition plan could include current regime members, but the West did not see any role for Assad in a new unity government.
Russia and China insisted that Syrians themselves must decide how the transition takes place, rather than allow others to dictate their fate.
Moscow and Beijing, which have twice blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria, signed up to the final agreement that did not make any explicit call for Assad to cede power.
Extra powers to Annan and his team
In a special interview with Al Arabiya, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshiar Zebary said that the principles agreed on in Geneva will give extra powers to Annan and his team for the sake of finding a solution to the Syrian crisis.
Official Syrian media slammed the outcome, in rare agreement with the main opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and the LCC which organize protests.
The SNC said it had expected “more serious and effective action” to emerge from the Geneva talks and reiterated that Assad must quit power.
“The Syrian people were hoping that the international community would adopt more serious and effective measures in dealing with the regime, whose bloody behavior has become clear,” the SNC said.
“The Syrian National Council affirms that no initiative can be accepted by the Syrian people unless it clearly calls on Bashar al-Assad and the tyrants around him to step down.”
It also charged that the Geneva plan “lacked a clear mechanism for action and a timetable” to hold the regime accountable, and warned that this could mean “more bloodshed.”
The LCC said the outcome showed once again a failure to adopt a common position.
It called the transition accord “just one version, different in form only, of the demands of Russian leaders allied to the Assad regime and who cover it militarily and politically in the face of international pressure.”
Iran, a strong ally of Assad, said the Geneva meeting was “unsuccessful” because Damascus and Tehran were not invited.
The United States and European nations reportedly opposed the presence of Iran, although U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon had wanted Tehran to attend.
The Geneva deal came despite initial pessimism over the talks amid deep divisions between the West and China and Russia on how to end the violence that the Observatory says has killed more than 15,800 since March 2011.
Syria’s neighbor Turkey, which attended the Geneva talks, scrambled fighter jets after Syrian helicopters flew close to its border, the army said on Sunday, hiking tensions following last month’s downing of a Turkish plane.
Six F-16 warplanes took off from airbases in south Turkey on Saturday after Syrian helicopters flew closer to the border than is normal, the army said, specifying there had been three incidents but no violation of Turkish airspace.
Sunday’s highest concentration of deaths was in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
Annan said on Saturday it was up to the Syrians to decide who they wanted in a unity government. But he added: “I would doubt that Syrians... would select people with blood on their hands to lead them.”
The United States and France both said it was clear there was no future role for Assad.