50-member Syrian opposition body emerges from Riyadh meeting

Updated 24 November 2017
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50-member Syrian opposition body emerges from Riyadh meeting

RIYADH: Syrian opposition leaders gathering in Riyadh have decided to form a new, 50-member High Negotiation Committee (HNC).
The final communique said the aim of the conference was to unify the opposition for a political solution based on the 2012 Geneva Declaration and UN Security Council resolutions, in order to prepare for a transitional period that leads Syria to a decentralized, civil, democratic and pluralistic political system.
The Geneva Declaration calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, which can include members of the current Syrian regime.
The opposition leaders stressed the multiculturalism and territorial unity of Syria, and vowed to preserve its institutions and hold accountable all those who have committed crimes against the Syrian people.
The participants agreed to negotiate directly with the Syrian regime in order to “establish a transitional governing authority capable of preparing a neutral environment within which the transitional process can move,” on condition that President Bashar Assad and his regime leave office at the start of the transition. The participants also approved the organizational structure and procedural rules of the HNC.
Col. Ismael Ayoub, who defected to the opposition from the Syrian Air Force, told Arab News that Kurdish and Turkmen representatives complained that they were not sufficiently included. But he said this was one of the most successful Syrian opposition conferences.
In the communique, opposition representatives said a peaceful and unbiased transition “will not happen without the departure of Bashar Assad and his cronies and the repression machine at the start of the transition period.”
Ahmed Ramadan, an opposition member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), said it is now up to the regime to show seriousness.
“The message today is that we have a unified vision when it comes to negotiations,” he told The Associated Press (AP).
A Cairo-based opposition group agreed on Thursday to join ranks with other opposition groups and send a unified delegation to Geneva.
“The Cairo group has joined the main opposition delegation to Geneva,” Ramadan told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
 


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 8 min 17 sec ago
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.