Syrian opposition unity stalled before peace talks

Opposition hits snag over Qatar's influence on rebels; disarray follows Syrian statement gov't to take part "in principle" in talks.

May 26, 2013 16:55
2 minute read.
Syrian opposition members visit Moscow

Syrian opposition 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

ISTANBUL - Talks by Syria's opposition to choose a new leadership before an

Relations between Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood improved after a senior Brotherhood official met Saudi officials in Riyadh earlier this month.

"Sabbagh has been told by Qatar that the Saudis are brothers and he should compromise. But he is a Syrian first and he will put the interest of the national opposition above everything," an ally of Sabbagh in the coalition said.

For the last three days, the coalition has been debating a plan to add 25 members of a liberal grouping headed by veteran opposition figure Michel Kilo.

Ten other members associated with the rebel Free Syrian Army could be also added.

"The mechanism on how to add the new members has not yet been worked out. The outcome of the meeting is still hanging in the balance," another coalition member said.

If the expansion goes ahead, the coalition will move to discuss the Geneva conference and a new leadership, including the fate of provisional prime minister Ghassan Hitto, who has not been able to form a provisional government since being appointed on March 19.

The coalition has been rudderless since the resignation around of Moaz AlKhatib, a cleric, who had floated two initiatives for Assad to leave power peacefully.

Washington has pressured the coalition to resolve its divisions and to expand to include more liberals to counter Islamists from dominating the coalition.

The Syrian conflict began with peaceful protests against Assad's autocratic rule that were met with military repression, leading to an armed insurgency.

The war has developed into a sectarian conflict pitting members of Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has controlled Syria since the 1960s, against members of the Sunni majority.

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