The Western-backed Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council, announced early Monday that it would attend talks after all in Geneva, Switzerland aimed at resolving the 2.5-year civil war in the country.
The peace conference was scheduled for, later this month but it remained unclear whether it would take place due to the ambivalence of the Syrian opposition, which set preconditions for its participation.
In a statement released Monday, the group indicated the conference must result in a political transition, a condition that must be assured before the conference begins. Guarantees that aid agencies have access besieged areas, and that prisoners be released were also on the list of conditions.
“All we can do is hope is that these [Geneva] talks will end with the departure of Bashar Assad,” said Adib Shishakly, a member of the coalition, quoted by Reuters.
The group has repeatedly said it will only negotiate if it is agreed from the start that Assad will leave power at the end of a transition period, whereas many other rebel fighters inside Syria flatly reject negotiating with Assad’s regime. Last month, 19 Syrian rebel groups rejected talks, labeling any participation at the conference “an act of treason.”
The opposition has also indicated that Iran’s participation at the conference — welcomed by the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakdhar Brahimi — was unacceptable.
Earlier this month, Brahimi said that the Geneva II peace conference to discuss the Syrian conflict could not take place if the opposition refuses to participate.
“The participation of the opposition is essential, necessary and important,” he said, adding that the conference was intended “to help the Syrians resolve their problems.”
Syria’s civil war has touched off a humanitarian catastrophe across the region. More than 2 million Syrians have sought refuge abroad. The United Nations said this week that more than 9 million Syrians — out of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million — are in need of humanitarian assistance. More than 120,000 people have been killed, according to the Observatory, which closely monitors the fighting in Syria. The UN said in July that 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting and has not updated that figure since.