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05/08/2013

Skepticism on Russian-American backed Syria conference

Russia and America have agreed to hold an international conference, as early as the end of May to find a way to end Syria's civil war. The starting point will be last year's Geneva Communique which called for a negotiated, political transition made up of both sides in the war, but left unanswered the question of what would happen to President Bashar Assad.  

The reaction so far has been pretty negative -- largely on the issue of Assad's future. 

Moaz Al-Khatib who last month resigned as head of the National Opposition Coalition said: "Syrians: be careful of squandering your revolution in international conference halls." 

Syrian National Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh told VOA that peace would begin with the departure of Assad and his inner circle but also seemed to leave open the possibility of talking to the president. 

"If the Assad regime is serious, I believe it can start by releasing 200,000 prisoners in its jails, it can start by pulling its military out of the cities," he said. 

Colonel Qassim Saadeddine, a spokesman for the rebel Supreme Military Council told Reuters that armed fighters would not be involved in the conference:  "Unfortunately I don't think there is a political solution left for Syria. I think that is clear by now. We will not sit with the regime for dialogue. And frankly, I don't think Assad's decisions are really in Russia's hands. Right now he is only looking toward Iran." 

@RevolutionSyria, a rebel group tweeted sarcastically: "Wow! We’ve cracked it. We’re going to have another conference but this time will also invite the killers!"

And: "You don’t negotiate with or reward murderers, rapists or child killers; you bring them to justice. Assad & gangs must face justice." 

Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League peace envoy, struck a more optimistic note. In a statement he said: "This is the first hopeful news concerning that unhappy country in a very long time. The statements made in Moscow constitute a very significant first step forward. It is nevertheless only a first step."

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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