Riyadh conference aims to unify Syrian opposition, says adviser

The Syrian regime has stepped up its violent campaign to weaken the opposition forces in their last stronghold near Damascus, according to analysts. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2017
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Riyadh conference aims to unify Syrian opposition, says adviser

JEDDAH: Yahya Al-Aridi, a political adviser to the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, has said the Syrian opposition’s conference in Riyadh on Wednesday mainly aims to discuss unifying the opposition and adopting a mechanism to adopt a new constitution for the country.
The intention, he said, is to deprive Russia of excuses to stop efforts to address the crisis.
“The fragmentation of the opposition has been used by the Russians as a pretext to discredit the opposition in general,” he said.
“I have been present in almost all Geneva and Astana talks and the Russians and the regime have always been using this as an excuse to foil the talks. We want to unify our stances so that they have nor more excuses — neither the regime nor the Russians.
“The Riyadh conference aims to sideline or take away this card from the hands of Russia and the regime. Also, there should be some sort of consolidation of strengthening of the opposition front, meaning that we need to introduce new actors who are more experienced and better trained and have in-depth knowledge about the negotiations,” he added.
Moreover, he said, the Russia and Cairo platforms are being invited, and this will be a way of checking how serious they are about engaging in serious talks over the future of Syria and the Syrian people and their best interests.
“We acknowledge that there are certain discrepancies and differences between the different opposition platforms but these can be resolved and overcome. If they are really part of the Syrian opposition.
“The two platforms, particularly the Moscow platform, have been insisting on the continuation of the Syrian regime and the adoption of the 2012 Syria Constitution which was introduced by the Syrian regime and gave absolute powers to Bashar Assad,” he said.
“If they continue to insist on these two demands then i suggest that they should be members of the regime front and not the opposition, as their demands meet the demands of the regime.”
However, Al-Aridi said the opposition has other alternatives to discuss with all parties with regard to which constitution should be adopted for the future of Syria.
“We will call for a constitutional declaration that governs the transitional period which will be the responsibility of a transitional body. This body would establish an national assembly which would select a team of skilled and qualified individuals to be tasked with drafting a new constitution that serves the country and the people’s aspirations of a new dictatorship-free Syria,” he said.
The conference will be attended by representatives of Syrian opposition groups from Riyadh, Moscow and Cairo.
One of the participants representing the Moscow platform, Firas Al-Khaldi, explained that the committee will study and prepare the necessary documents and the meeting’s final communiqué.
The conference aims to unite the opposition under one delegation and issue a unified document before the delegation heads to the Geneva talks at the end of November.
Moreover, the conference seeks to resolve points of dispute, including the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and whether or not he should step down at the beginning of the transitional period.
The second point of dispute, according to Al-Khaldi, is about the constitution.
He said there are those who want to follow the constitution set by Assad in 2012, which is what Moscow wants, and those who favor the Fifties constitution.
This came as the political bodies in the Syrian governorates confirmed on Sunday that Russia seeks to create an opposition in line with Assad’s regime and Russia’s interests in Syria.
In a statement issued by these bodies, they said: “The political bodies in Syria, which represent the revolutionary and political movement inside Syria, are following with great concern these calls. We firmly reject all suspicious attempts that seek to refloat Bashar Assad’s criminal regime.
“We highly appreciate the efforts of some Arab brothers and Syrian friends in supporting our revolution’s legitimate demands, and we expect them to continue to do so with real representation of the Syrian revolutionary bodies.”
The statement also highlighted the right of revolutionary bodies to select their representatives in conferences and negotiations.
The political bodies also refused to accept any individual or group that does not consider the Geneva Declaration 1 and Resolutions 2118 and 2254 the only references for a political solution.
They also noted that “the determinants of the Riyadh I Conference are the basis for joining any political body that opposes Assad’s regime.”
On Monday (Nov. 20), anti-Assad activists launched the campaign “Reject the Moscow Platform,” which aims to send messages to participants in the Riyadh II Conference, set to be held by the end of this week, and insist on not allowing the Moscow platform to join the negotiations delegation that will represent the Syrian revolution, given that the stances of the Moscow platform favor Assad’s regime.
Syrian opposition figure Michel Kilo said: “Participants in the Riyadh II Conference are required to thwart the Russian plan. The Geneva Declaration 1 and Resolution 2118 state that the political solution begins with the establishment of a transitional governing body, formed by mutual consent of the regime and the opposition, with full executive powers, which will create a democratic system in Syria.
“The Riyadh II Conference’s commitment to international resolutions means its commitment to the Syrian people’s right to establish a transitional governing body,” Kilo said.
“This right is not a precondition as the National Coordinating Body says, but a right recognized by international resolutions. Russia attacked us and our people with all kinds of weapons in order to save Assad’s regime. It used its veto 11 times. Therefore, we must reject the Russian solution, commit to change and insist on having Assad step down with his entire regime.”


Israel PM Netanyahu battles to save weakened ruling coalition

Updated 23 min 35 sec ago
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Israel PM Netanyahu battles to save weakened ruling coalition

  • Most media see little way for Netanyahu to avoid calling a snap general election

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was battling to keep his government afloat on Friday after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit over a ceasefire deal for Gaza.
Left with a single seat majority in parliament after the walkout by Lieberman and his hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party, most media saw little way for Netanyahu to avoid calling a snap general election.
The veteran prime minister was expected to hold crunch talks later on Friday with his other main right-wing rival, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose religious nationalist Jewish Home party has threatened to quit unless he is given Lieberman’s job.
The Gaza ceasefire, which ended the worst flare-up between Israel and the territory’s Islamist rulers Hamas since a 2014 war, faced its first major test later on Friday as Palestinian demonstrators were expected to gather along the border for mass protests that have triggered deadly violence in previous weeks.
The deal has already drawn heavy criticism, however, in Israeli communities near the border that faced barrages of rockets earlier this week.
Hundreds joined a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Thursday despite a promise from Netanyahu of more public money for emergency services.
Pro-Netanyahu freesheet Yisrael Hayom daily predicted that the prime minister would do all he could to avoid a general election while his hard-won security credentials were at issue.
“Holding elections with the fiasco in Gaza in the background cracks the image of the ultimate leader that he has built over the course of years,” it said.
“The chances of stopping this speeding train appear impossible, but Netanyahu is still trying.”
The eight lawmakers of Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party are not the only threat to Netaynahu’s razor-thin parliamentary majority.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose center-right Kulanu party hold 10 seats, has reportedly told Netanyahu that a snap election is necessary to provide a stable government to keep the economy on track.
But Yisrael Hayom said Bennett was key to efforts to avoid an early election and could yet prove Netanyahu’s political salvation.
“Naftali Bennett as defense minister and Netanyahu as prime minister could together project stability and embark on a coordinated offensive against anyone who gets in the way,” it said.
In a speech on Thursday, Bennett did not reiterate the resignation threat but made his case for why he should get the defense post.
“The most dangerous thing for the state of Israel is that we begin to think that there is no solution to terrorism, to terrorists, to missiles,” he said.
“There is a solution. When Israel wants to win, we will win.”
There were no official details of when or where Bennett would meet Netanyahu on Friday or what public statements if any would be made.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening calling for tougher action against Hamas which has portrayed the ceasefire and Lieberman’s resignation as a victory.
Netanyahu — flanked by Kahlon, Interior Minister Arie Deri and army top brass — met with the leaders of Israeli border communities.
He briefed them on military efforts to quell Hamas attacks and also announced a 500 million shekel ($139 million) two-year package to improve emergency medical and social services, a government statement said.
With a major domestic political battle on his hands, Netanyahu canceled a planned two-day visit to Austria next week for a conference on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
There has long been speculation that Netanyahu would call a general election before its scheduled date of November 2019.
Police have recommended he be charged in two separate corruption cases and the attorney general is expected to announce in the coming months whether to put him on trial.
Analysts say the prime minister would be better positioned to fight any charges with a fresh mandate from the voters.
But he would not have chosen to go the polls with voters’ attention focused on the Gaza ceasefire and his rivals’ efforts to outbid his security credentials.