Arab League chief says talks on November 23; Brahimi sceptical

A divided Syrian opposition continues to pose hurdles in the convening of the much postponed Geneva-II talks, which, its backers say, is now slated for November 23.

The Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi said in Cairo on Sunday, after meeting the U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, that the Geneva-II conference would finally start on November 23. The meeting in the Swiss resort city has been officially backed by the Russians and the Americans, though questions have been raised about Washington’s depth of commitment to find a diplomatic solution to the festering crisis.

“I discussed the Syria file with Lakhdar Brahimi and it was decided that the Geneva meeting would take place on November 23 and arrangements are being made to prepare for this conference,” Mr. Arabi told reporters in Cairo.

But the Arab League head warned that there “are many difficulties that must be overcome for this conference to succeed”.

It was, however, left to Mr. Brahimi to point to the real obstacles in the way of the much-awaited conference. The veteran Algerian diplomat stressed that the meeting would not be convened without a “credible opposition representing an important segment of the Syrian people” opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad.

Mr. Brahimi’s remarks mirrored the deep splits and in-fighting within the ranks of the opposition.

The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) — supposedly the opposition’s umbrella organisation — has stated that it is yet to take a call on participation in the conclave.

But the Syrian National Council (SNC), one of the main components of the coalition, swiftly rejected participation in negotiations. The SNC warned that it would quit the coalition, if it decided to field a delegation in Geneva.

Among fighters on the ground, 13 prominent militant brigades have rejected calls for negotiations.

There has been heavy fighting among rival groups, who are intent to safeguard their turf.

This has included clashes between the mainstream Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The infighting also reflects external intervention in the conflict, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar being the main regional benefactors of hardline militant group.

The U.S. has also backed the armed opposition, but as of now, Washington seems willing to give diplomacy a chance, following a diplomatic coup by Moscow, which succeeded in persuading the Assad government to eliminate its stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, is heading to Britain to attend a pro-opposition “Friends of Syria” meeting on Tuesday. During that meeting, the western powers are expected to impress upon the Syrian opposition to participate in the Geneva talks.

Analysts say the conference could well reflect the tussle between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which has rejected a U.N. Security Council rotating seat in protest against the perceived lukewarm western backing for the armed opposition in Syria.

There is a flurry of diplomatic activity ahead of the proposed conference in Geneva.

While Mr. Brahimi undertakes his regional tour, which is taking him to Iran and Syria, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is on his way to Moscow on Sunday for a two-day visit.

The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has also met U.S. Ambassador in Moscow Michael McFaul to discuss Syria’s chemical disarmament and the Iran’s nuclear programme, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

DPA adds:

Sucide bomber kills 31 in Hama

At least 31 people, including government soldiers, were killed on Sunday in a car bombing in central Syria, reported a pro-opposition group, even as plans for a peace talk inched forward.

The bombing targeted a security checkpoint in the province of Hama, added the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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