Syria rivals clash ahead of peace talks

Syria rivals clash ahead of peace talks
Members from both camps of the Syria talks have locked horns over the fate of Assad as the delegates prepare for another round of peace talks.
2 min read
13 March, 2016
Little has changed since the last round of peace talks in February [Getty]
Syria's warring parties are preparing for fresh peace talks on Monday after clashing over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, whose ouster was described as a "red line" by loyalists.

"We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency... Bashar al-Assad is a red line," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in Damascus on Saturday.

"If they continue with this approach, there's no reason for them to come to Geneva."

But opposition members defied the comments insisting they vowed to see him go- whether dead or alive.

Head of opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Asaad al-Zoabi who believes the talks are pointless if Assad remains, told The New Arab that the opposition's main concern is stopping bloodshed and destruction as well achieving the aspirations of the Syrian people to obtain freedom and dignity.

"We believe that the transitional period should start with the fall, or death, of Bashar al-Assad," chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush told AFP.

"It cannot start with the presence of the regime, or the head of this regime still in power."

The UN-brokered negotiations are the latest international efforts attempting to find a resolution to Syria's conflict as the five year anniversary passes.

The talks will bring together government representatives, including negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari with members of the main opposition group, HNC to discuss concerns including potential elections, the shape of a new government as well as the fate of Assad.

But Muallem insists otherwise, saying the talks aim to discuss the formation of a unity government to appoint a committee to either write a new constitution or amend the existing one, suggesting the UN envoy has no right to "discuss presidential elections."

"Then we will have a referendum for the Syrian people to decide on it," he said.

The HNC responded to the comments saying it shows the "regime is not serious about the political process".

Little has changed since the collapse of the last round of US-Russia brokered talks in February as clashes continued on the ground.

Both sides have accused the other of breaking the ceasefire, with 350 alleged violations committed by the regime according to Alloush.

In the latest violence, Al-Qaeda fighters and allied jihadists clashed with a rebel faction known as Division 13 overnight in northwestern Syria fter storming its weapons depot, the group said.

Six militants died in the clashes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.