The opposition’s plan for a Syria without Assad

After the transition period, Assad must go, say negotiators.
Riad Hijab, General Co-ordinator of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) outlines plans on September 7, 2016 in London from the Syrian opposition for the transition to a democratic state without President Bashar Al Assad ahead of talks with ministers of EU, US and regional powers in London. Chris J Ratcliffe / AFP
Riad Hijab, General Co-ordinator of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) outlines plans on September 7, 2016 in London from the Syrian opposition for the transition to a democratic state without President Bashar Al Assad ahead of talks with ministers of EU, US and regional powers in London. Chris J Ratcliffe / AFP

LONDON // Syria’s opposition set out detailed plans on Wednesday for the transition to a democratic state without President Bashar Al Assad.

The broad-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC) proposed a six-month negotiating phase between the regime and the opposition. The subsequent 18 months would see Syria governed by a transitional body, made up of opposition figures, current government representatives and members of civil society, according to a 25-page blueprint.

“Syria wants to see Bashar leave. If Bashar leaves will the fighting go on? No,” said Riad Hijab, who heads the HNC. In a newspaper article published on Wednesday, Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson urged Russia to stop supporting the “barbaric military tactics” of Assad — a stance which he labelled “seemingly indefensible” on Moscow’s part.

“The entire international community is committed, at least in principle, to getting rid of the Syrian dictator. Even the Russians have accepted that there must be political transition,” wrote Mr Johnson. “But then the Russians are also employing their military muscle to prevent him from losing and to keep him in power.”

The HNC’s plans are largely in line with existing international proposals for a post-war Syria, although unlike the so-called Vienna framework, they are clear about Assad’s future. They state: “The establishment of the Transitional Governing Body shall require the departure of Bashar al-Assad and his clique who committed heinous crimes against the Syrian people,” with the goal of “building a political system that protects freedoms, safeguards individual rights, and that is founded upon the principles of liberty, equality, citizenship, and justice.”

The proposals, and the talks in London come after intense discussions by the United States and Russia over a possible path to end the five and a half year conflict., It was thought that an agreement was close at the G20 summit earlier this week in China, but Washington then admitted no deal could be announced for the moment. US Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the talks in London via video link, but Russia is not represented.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, whose country backs the opposition, said the HNC was going further than before in outlining its vision for a post-Assad Syria.

“There is no reason, no excuse for anyone to say that they don’t have a plan or that their plan is not rational,” he said before the meeting. The talks also involve foreign ministers from Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE, Italy and France, as well as representatives of Germany and the EU.

They come as the armed opposition inside Syria is losing ground on multiple fronts, including becoming besieged once again in Aleppo city, and the Syrian government began releasing 169 prisoners in exchange for the return of the bodes of five Russian soldierskilled when their helicopter was shot down. Fifty inmates, including seven women, were set free from Adra prison and 84 from Hama prison on Tuesday, and another 31 are due to be freed from Homs, according to lawyer Michel Chammas, who represents many of the prisoners. The detainees had all been accused of “terrorism”, a catch-all term the Syrian government uses to describe all of its armed opponents. In return, the Russians will receive the bodies of the two officer and three crew who were in the Russian military helicopter that was shot down on August 1 in the north-western province of Idlib, which remains almost entirely controlled by a coalition of ISIL and other extremist rebels.

Regarding that other war front, Turkish president Recept Tayyip Erdogan said Washington and Ankara were ready to work together to push ISIL out of Raqqa, which they captured in 2013 and declared their capital in 2014. Mr Erdogan said that when he spoke to President Barack Obama at the recent G20 summit in China, the two leaders had agreed to do “what is necessary” to drive the fanatics out and bring about a real turning point in the Syrian conflict.

“Obama wants to do something together especially on the issue of Raqa,” said Mr Erdogan. “I said there would be no problem from our perspective. Our soldiers should come together and discuss, then what is necessary will be done. What can be done will become clear after the discussions.”

Mr Erdogan’s comments came two weeks after Turkey launched an ambitious operation inside Syria, sending tanks and special forces to back up Syrian opposition fighters and cleanse its frontier of ISIL extremists. Turkish forces succeeded in liberating the border town of Jarabulus in less than 24 hours and on Wednesday, hundreds of civilians began returning to their homes there queuing patiently at the customs post in Karkamis, on the Turkish side of the border. Turkish state media have been broadcasting footage of shops reopening and children playing in the streets. Around 250 citizens who had fled from ISIL returned to Jarabulus on Wednesday in a first wave of resettlement. Turkey is home to some 2.7 million refugees from the conflict in Syria but only around 10 per cent live in refugee camps, with the rest living in towns and cities across the country, mainly in the south-east.

The United Nations on Wednesday announced that intense fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels in the Hama province in central Syria had displaced 100,000 people in a single week between late August and early September. Earlier this month, insurgents pushed northward in Hama province, surprising government troops and dislodging them from areas they controlled around the provincial capital, also called Hama, including a military base and towns and villages near the motorway to Damascus.

The offensive, led by an ultraconservative Islamic group, Jund al-Aqsa, and also involving several factions from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, incurred an intense government bombing campaign that killed dozens of people. The fighting and the aerial bombardment sent tens of thousands of people fleeing for safety, creating the latest wave of displacement, part of a pattern that has left nearly half of the Syrian population displaced since the war began in 2011. Nearly half of those displaced from Hama sought refuge in rebel-held Idlib while others fled toward government-controlled Hama city, where four mosques were converted into temporary shelters., although some refugees were forced to sleep in the open.

* Associated Press

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 7, 2016 04:00 AM

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