The UN-Arab League envoy to Syria said Friday that the Geneva II peace conference scheduled for later this month to discuss the Syrian conflict could not take place if the opposition refuses to participate.
“If the opposition does not participate, there will be no Geneva conference,” Lakhdar Brahimi said in Damascus before heading to Beirut Friday. Brahimi has been in the region for weeks as part of a regional tour to try to drum up support for the peace talks.
“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.”
Brahimi was winding up a 4-day visit to Damascus — where he met with President Bashar Assad — with a call to both the Syrian government and the opposition to attend the planned peace conference, scheduled for November 23-24. The summit will attempt to get Syria’s rival sides to agree on a transitional government in that country based on a plan adopted in Geneva in June 2012.
The US and Russia have been trying to bring the Damascus government and Syria’s divided opposition to the negotiating table for months, but the meeting has been repeatedly delayed.
The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, has said in the past that it will only negotiate if it is agreed from the start that President Bashar Assad will leave power at the end of a transition period. Many rebel fighters inside Syria flatly reject negotiating with Assad’s regime.
On Sunday, 19 Syrian rebel groups rejected talks, labeling any participation at the conference “an act of treason.”
The government, meanwhile, has refused to talk with the armed opposition, which it refers to as “terrorists,” and has rejected demands that Assad leave power, saying he will stay at least until the end of his term in mid-2014, and will decide then whether to seek reelection.
Brahimi’s plea comes just hours after officials said Israeli warplanes had attacked a shipment of Russian missiles inside a Syrian government stronghold — a development that threatened to add another volatile layer to regional tensions from the Syrian civil war. Syrian officials and state media have not commented on the reports.
Syria’s conflict, now into its third year, has left over 100,000 dead. It has devastated the economy and the country’s delicate social fabric, has caused 5 million Syrians to flee their homes to other places within the country, and driven another 2 million abroad.