A POWERFUL alliance of Syrian Islamist rebels rejected upcoming peace talks yesterday, meaning that even if the talks reach an unlikely breakthrough in the three-year-old civil war, it will be harder to implement it on the ground.
Syria’s main political opposition group in exile, the National Coalition, agreed on Saturday to attend the talks beginning on Wednesday in Geneva, setting up the first meeting between president Bashar al-Assad’s government and its foes.
But the Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist fighting forces that represents a large portion of the rebels on the ground, said yesterday it rejected the talks.
Syria’s future would be “formulated here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the front lines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don’t even represent themselves,” Abu Omar, a leading member of the Islamic Front, said on his Twitter account.
In what appeared to be a symbolic conciliatory move ahead of the talks, Syria permitted some aid to reach a besieged suburb of Damascus on Saturday.
Saturday’s shipment included only 200 food parcels for Yarmouk, a camp of Palestinian refugees where 15 people have died of malnutrition so far under a seven-month siege.
UN Relief Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said it would feed just 330 of the camp’s 18,000 residents for a month.
Moscow and Washington, which have emerged as the leading pro- and anti-Assad powers, have urged both parties to make concessions, including ceasefires, access for aid and prisoner exchanges, to build confidence before the conference.
Russian news agency Itar-Tass cited deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying that the opposition coalition had made “a correct decision” in agreeing to attend.
“We have been saying the entire time that it is necessary to go to the forum and enter into dialogue with the government.”
Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem, on a visit to Moscow this month, said he had given Russian officials a plan for a truce in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and said the government was ready to swap lists of prisoners to be freed.
But there is little sign of violence abating or of either side winning a final victory on the battlefield.
Activists around the country said that the Syrian air force was using jets and helicopters to bomb rebel-held areas.
Rebel fighters from Syria’s Qalamoun mountain range, near the border with Lebanon, said more than 60 opposition militants had been killed in an ambush by forces loyal to Assad yesterday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an anti-Assad monitoring group, said that helicopters over Aleppo were using crudely-made and inaccurate “barrel bombs”, which can destroy entire apartment blocks. It said 194 people had been killed on Saturday.
After two years when Western countries believed Mr Assad’s days were numbered and rebels seized whole swathes of the country, the past year has seen the war largely go the president’s way.
Rebels have fought each other, with groups turning against a powerful al-Qaeda-linked Islamist faction. Mr Assad’s forces have recovered lost ground, and the rise of Islamists among the rebels has cost them Western support.
It was reported yesterday that Mr Assad had told Russian MPs he would not yield power. Syrian state media denied the reports as “not accurate”.