Amid growing signs of exasperation, the Syrian opposition, locked in a bloody conflict with government forces, has announced it would not participate in a pro-opposition international conference, unless the western powers intervene more pointedly to defuse the crisis.
On Saturday, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) announced that it was suspending its participation in the upcoming meeting in Rome of the pro-western Friends of Syria grouping. It cited Scud missile attacks by government forces in Aleppo — Syria’s largest city, which apparently killed 29, for its decision.
However, there was no independent confirmation of the casualty figures cited by opposition activists, nor any specific details about the people who resided in the targeted area. The Syrian government has frequently maintained that it has attacked foreign jihadi groups, which, in its view, currently form the core of the opposition fighters.
Analysts point out that the wide international coverage of the Aleppo attacks seemed to dim the focus on Thursday’s carnage when an estimated 90 people were killed during a horrific bombing in the heart of Damascus near the Russian embassy and the Baath party headquarters.
The government has blamed groups affiliated to al-Qaeda for the deadly strike.
‘Shameful international stand’
The SNC statement said that in view off the “shameful international stand”, the coalition had “decided to suspend its participation in the Rome conference for the Friends of Syria and decline the invitations to visit Russia and the United States”.
Opposition spokesman Walid al-Bunni, said that the SNC was not opposed to a negotiated settlement to end the crisis, but would engage in talks only if Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad stepped down and faced charges.
The insistence on the President’s exit flies in the face of the Geneva plan of June 2012 — supported both by Russia, the United States and the United Nations — that calls for a political transition in Syria without insisting on Mr. Assad’s exit.
Russia bears moral responsibility
After the Libyan experience, Russia and China have staunchly resisted powerful moves by the western powers and their regional allies to bring about ‘regime change’ in Syria. Unsurprisingly, the SNC pointedly blamed Russia for the Aleppo strike.
“The Russian leadership especially bears moral and political responsibility for supplying the regime with weapons,” the statement observed.
Separately in Cairo, a SNC delegation met the Arab League chief Nabil ElAraby on Sunday to press for a collective Arab response to stop Scud missile attacks on Aleppo, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.
The SNC’s hardening stance seemed to reflect a grim on-going tussle within the group between those, such as the coalition’s head Moaz al-Khatib, who had earlier proposed talks with Syrian government representatives, and others who may be disinclined to budge from their ingrained position that Mr. Assad must step down first.
The organisation also seemed to rally international attention, in the hope of inducing a change in tactics, by blaming Hizbollah — Israel’s arch-foe — for attacks on opposition fighters from Lebanese soil, in support of the Syrian government.