12/11/2015, 00.00
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Syrian conflict: From Riyadh "Islamic front" lays down conditions for peace talks

The opposition gathers in the Saudi capital, Kurds excluded, open to a "pluralistic system" representing "all sectors". Regardless of ethnic, sectarian or denominational belonging. The goal is to form a transitional government within six months and lead the country to the polls in 18 months. But Assad can play no role in the transition process.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A "pluralist regime that represents all sectors" present today in Syrian society and an end to the political career of President Bashar al-Assad, who cannot play any role in the transition process that will carry the country towards new elections. This is the outcome of two days of meetings  December 9 and 10 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that gathered together the so-called "Islamic front" of the Syrian opposition.

However, Syria’s Kurds and other groups opposed to the block supported by the Saudis were not invited to the meeting. At the moment there is no official confirmation of the presence at the summit of the Islamic extremist group Ahrar al-Sham which has close links to al-Nusra Front, the local cell of al Qaeda.

According to Reuters, participants at the Riyadh summit support a "democratic mechanism" to form "a pluralist regime," which represents "all sectors of the Syrian people." It would also include women and would not make any sectarian, ethnic or denominational distinction or discrimination. Delegates also ensure the will to keep the state institutions and to rebuild the security forces.

However this position is in direct contrast to the position expressed on several occasions by President Assad and reiterated in recent days in an interview. He said that there can be no negotiations before new elections and that peace talks are impossible as along as part of the country is occupied by "terrorists", a term used by Assad to include all armed opposition groups.

Sources close to the summit participants report that the goal of the opposition is to form a transitional government within the next six months, and steer the country to elections, to be held within 18 months. After the meeting a "Supreme Committee for negotiations" was created based in Riyadh, which will be the spokesman for the "front" in the context of all pending negotiations. It will consist of 30 members, a third of representatives from the armed factions.

In recent weeks, world powers have accelerated diplomatic efforts, to start concrete negotiations between a "united" Syrian opposition and government representatives. The talks are expected to start on January 1 and aim to end a conflict that has lasted four and a half years, causing over 250 thousand deaths and at least 11 million refugees.

So far, the opposition groups were intransigent regarding the role of the Syrian president, ruling out the possibility of any negotiations as long as Assad remained in power. Now their positions appear to be less rigid, so that in their final declaration the "Islamic front" say they are willing to accept the presence of the leader of Damascus "until the formation of a transition government " from which he would be excluded.

Analysts and experts on Middle East policy speak of a "big change" in the opposition camp. Moreover, the Riyadh meeting in would provide a "context" and a "mechanism" to start comprehensive negotiations in the near future between the regime and the various anti-Assad factions.

Now all eyes are on the upcoming summit between the regional and international powers, which will be attended also by Russia and Iran, scheduled in the second half of the month. It is hoped that this meeting will lay the foundations for the negotiations of the new year.

However, experts continue to preach prudence and caution that the road to peace in Syria remains fraught with difficulties.

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