The state of Syria’s opposition ahead of the Geneva 2 conference scheduled for January leads the headlines of Arab media as the week comes to a close.

“The Islamic Front withdraws from the Free Syrian Army,” reads the front page of London-based daily Al-Hayat, reporting that the largest Islamist umbrella group has announced its withdrawal from the rebel army, “causing these groups to propose the creation of an alternative political leadership to replace the opposition’s Syrian National Coalition.”

Western diplomatic sources told the daily that “conditions these days remain unripe for the [Geneva] conference.”

Meanwhile, on the ground, a Syrian opposition group which recaptured the Christian town of Maaloula, abducting local nuns, announced that it is prepared to release the women in return for the release of 1,000 female detainees currently imprisoned by the Assad regime.

Muhannad Abul Fidaa’, a spokesman for the Ahrar al-Qalmoun Brigades, told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that the demand was conveyed to the Assad regime through the Vatican. Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, also present in Maaloula, said it had the additional demand of relieving the siege from certain regime-held areas such as Ghouta, near Damascus.

Following a meeting with the head of Syria’s transitional government Ahmad T’uma, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the goal of Geneva 2 is to produce a transitional Syrian government enjoying full power and excluding Assad, Qatari news channel Al-Jazeera reports.

Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi has asked both Iran and Saudi Arabia to participate in Geneva 2, scheduled to begin on January 22. The only problem is that the Syrian opposition opposes Iran’s presence at the talks while the Syrian government opposes the participation of Saudi Arabia.

“Syria is the next ‘secret’ deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia,” reads the headline of Friday’s editorial in London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

The paper ridicules a statement by Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which described talks in Moscow this week with the head of Saudi intelligence Prince Bandar bin Sultan as “philosophical in nature.”

“Of course, the Russian and Saudi intelligence agencies are studying philosophy, respect for human rights, Budhism and Yoga and not cutting deals,” the editorial sates ironically.

“Prince Bandar’s second visit to Moscow in four months follows two major changes in the region: the first is the ouster of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, and the second is the Iranian nuclear deal signed on November 24. If the ‘philosophical’ deliberations lead to an agreement, this will entail a third regional change: Syria.”

The military coup in Egypt, argues the editorial, has forged a new unlikely alliance between two rival parties: Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“Both Moscow and Riyadh lead a political strategy that opposes Islamic political parties, each for their own reasons.”

“The unexpected alliance between Saudi Arabia and Russia over Egypt has opened the door to another possible agreement between them on the Syrian issue. But a deal in Syria would not be possible without the agreement of Iran, Russia’s ally and the greatest protector of the Syrian regime.”