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The New Arab

The fate of the Syrian opposition: left without support

Khaled Khoja is urging for an improvement in the humanitarian situation in Syria [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 6 February, 2016

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International support to the armed opposition in Syria has ceased following the talks in Vienna in October, Syrian National Coalition President Khaled Khoja tells The New Arab.
External support for armed opposition factions in Syria has come to a complete halt following the Vienna talks in October 2015, the President of the Syrian National Coalition Khaled Khoja told The New Arab.

Armed opposition factions are increasingly resorting to guerrilla-warfare as a result of Russian bombardment, Khoja said.

The Vienna talks held in the Austrian capital were attended by diplomats from Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to pave the way for the 2016 Geneva talks, which ended in disarray this week.

While the talks were unravelling, Russian support for Bashar al-Assad's forces allowed the Syrian army to make major advances in Aleppo province over the past several days.

The Russian intervention as well as the presence of Iranian militias on the ground has forced opposition factions to employ "guerrilla warfare tactics in Aleppo, Daraa and the [Mediterranean] coast, like those practiced by the national liberation movements inside regime-held areas," Khoja told The New Arab.

"The Free Syrian Army seeks to unite the armed opposition factions to form one united army, but this phase requires transforming into smaller groups engaged in guerrilla war or a form of 'war of liberation', like the 'war of liberation' in Palestine, waging direct strikes aimed at the Russians, Iranians and the Syrian regime," he added.

Meanwhile, external support for the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF], whose major constituent is the PKK-linked Kurdish dominated PYD, continues to flow, Khoja said.

The SDF maintains the support of three major backers, the US, Russia and the Syrian regime.

The three are working to pull the rug from under the Syria's moderate opposition to transfer legitimacy to SDF and bring it closer to the regime according to a Russian plan to "fight terrorism", Khoja said.

But the Syrian opposition gains its strength from the support of the Syrian revolutionaries who are "fighting on the ground or are trapped in besieged towns, and not from foreign ambassadors and diplomats," Khoja declared.

"What drives us in negotiations is the revolutionary movement on the ground and the activists in towns under siege," he added.

The Syrian opposition gains its strength from the support of the Syrian revolutionaries who are fighting on the ground or are trapped in besieged towns, and not from foreign ambassadors and diplomats

De Mistura the 'pawnbroker'

The limitations in the potential for reaching a political solution were clearly manifested in the UN Special Envoy's press conference on Wednesday, where Staffan de Mistura announced that the first round of the Geneva talks had come to close, Khoja told The New Arab.

De Mistura is restricted by a US-Russian agreement, Khoja said, with the envoy increasingly described as a "pawnbroker" seeking to bring about the boundaries of settlement decided by US and Russian foreign ministers, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov.

A major transformation is vital before the next stage of negations, Khoja added.

The [current] proposal is to "put aside talks of a transitional process and move towards talks on a ceasefire and elections under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are based on an Iranian agenda which is not acceptable by the Syrian people," Khoja said.

The Syrian opposition delegation went to Geneva with a clear agenda.

"This was a declaration of our readiness for a political solution in line with the UN resolutions and the [in view of the] concept of establishing a transitional governing body according to previous negotiations according to Geneva 2," Khoja said.

The Higher Negotiations Committee [HNC] presented its request to de Mistura in the first session at the UN building in Geneva on Monday, and again asserted these requests in the meeting on Wednesday.

The requests emphasised that the negotiation process could not start before a complete halt to Russian and Syrian regime airstrikes, the lifting of sieges, the delivery of aid as well as the release of all child and female prisoners.

De Mistura made it clear to the opposition, however, that the process is linked to decisions made by foreign states.

"That is how the first stage of talks ended without any negotiations or any steps forward towards improving the dire humanitarian situation in Syria," Khoja added.

De Mistura made it clear to the opposition that the process is linked to decisions made by foreign states

Negotiations are set to resume on 25 February, but Khoja said the date is insignificant.

"What is more important is making progress on the ground to help save lives."

The HNC'S delegation team, was ready to proceed with an agenda agreed upon by all opposition factions following the Riyadh conference last year, Khoja said. 

Over 260,000 people have died and at least 11 million have fled their homes since the Syrian civil war started almost five years ago.

An estimated four million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries alone, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

The crisis has been described by the UN as the worst humanitarian disaster of our time.

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