Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday said he would not relinquish power, and that the end of his rule would not be a subject of peace talks this week in Montreaux, Switzerland. Assad made his remarks to visiting Russian lawmakers.
“If we wanted to surrender we would have surrendered from the start,” Assad said, according to the Interfax news agency. “This issue is not under discussion. Only the Syrian people can decide who should take part in elections.”
However, without providing any further information, the president’s spokesman called the quotes inaccurate.
The aim of the conference, dubbed Geneva 2, is to agree on a roadmap for Syria based on one adopted by the US, Russia and other major powers in June 2012. That plan includes the creation of a transitional government and eventual elections.
The opposition coalition does not want Assad to have any role during a transitional period in Syria.
The US and Russia have been trying to hold the peace conference since last year and it has been repeatedly delayed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiating table after dropping some of their conditions.
The opposition coalition was under huge pressure from its Western and Arab sponsors to attend the peace talks and its decision to go was widely welcomed by the US, Britain and Russia.
In Istanbul, meanwhile, the leadership of Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, was meeting to decide on its delegation for the peace talks, which were set to open Wednesday.
Senior coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said the meeting would decide who will negotiate with the Syrian government delegation at Geneva 2.
Under immense pressure from its foreign patrons, the coalition decided late Saturday to take part in the peace talks, paving the way for the first direct negotiations between the rival sides.
The US and Russia have been trying to convene the conference since May, but it was repeatedly postponed. Both sides finally agreed to sit together at the negotiating table after dropping some of their conditions.
Ramadan said the 15-member delegation will include two representatives of the country’s ethnic Kurdish minority, two for the rebels and two for opposition groups based in Syria.
Mustafa Osso, a member of the National Kurdish Council, said they might have two people selected to represent them.
In Damascus, a few dozen people, including some in need of medical treatment, left the besieged rebel-held Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk Sunday, said a member of Palestinian Struggle Front who goes with the name Abu Jamal. The move came a day after some 200 food parcels were sent into Yarmouk.
The blockade on Yarmouk has devastated the camp, where residents and activists say 46 people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid.
Footage aired by Lebanon’s private Al-Mayadeen television station showed mostly women and children leaving the camp in ambulances.
An elderly woman, who said she suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and an ulcer, told the station “we were suffering from hunger, cold and darkness.”
“May God help the residents of the camp,” the woman said.