Summary:Syria's main opposition groups rejected on Sunday a new international plan that calls for a transitional government because the compromise agreement did not bar President Bashar Assad from participating.
Their reaction held out little hope for an end to more than
15 months of carnage on a day when the main opposition group said 800 people
were killed in violence in the past week alone.
Opposition activists groups say more than 14,000 people have
been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian
rule began in March 2011, or on average about 900 a month. That would make last
week's toll alone almost as high as the monthly average as government forces
furiously pounded rebellious towns and cities with helicopters, tanks and
artillery in an offensive aimed at recovering rebel-held territories.
World powers at a conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted
a U.N.-brokered plan calling for creation of a transitional national unity
government with full executive powers in Syria. But at Russia's insistence, the
compromise agreement left the door open to Assad being part of the interim
administration. It could also include members of Assad's government and the
opposition and other groups. The transitional government would oversee the
drafting of a new constitution and elections.
However Syria's fragmented opposition has long opposed any
solution that involved negotiating with Assad or allowing him to cling to
Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based spokeswoman for the main
opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), said the agreement is
"ambiguous" and lacks a mechanism or timetable for implementation.
She said there were some positive elements in the plan, which implies that all
members of the Security Council were in agreement that the transition period
must not be led by Assad. But she said this needs to be more explicit.
"We cannot say that there is any positive outcome
today," Kodmani said.
The regime did not react to the plan. But Assad has
repeatedly said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists —
his term for those fighting the regime — and will not accept any non-Syrian
model of governance.
Fayez Sayegh, a prominent lawmaker and member of the ruling
Baath party, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the conference, saying
participants left it up to the Syrian people to decide their fate and form of
"The conference ... did not discuss matters that have
to do with the president as Western countries would have wished," Sayegh
told The Associated Press.
The need for a solution to the Syrian crisis is growing more
urgent by the day with the sharp escalation in violence and deaths and the
conflict threatening to spill across borders. Syria shot down a warplane from
neighboring Turkey on June 22 and Turkey responded by setting up anti-aircraft
guns along the frontier. Turkey said Sunday it scrambled fighter jets to its
border after Syrian helicopters flew too close to the frontier.
But any hopes for a quick breakthrough were dashed by the
opposition's rejection to the brand new initiative, likely relegating it to the
latest in a series of failures by the international community to unify and stop
Assad's crackdown on dissent.
At the Geneva conference, the U.S. backed away from
insisting that the plan should explicitly bar Assad from any role in a new
government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater
pressure on its longtime ally to end the violence.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on Saturday
that Assad would still have to go and France's foreign minister echoed the
demand on Sunday.
It is now "incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad
the writing on the wall" and help force his departure," Clinton said,
addressing the two countries that have shielded Assad's regime from U.N.
Security Council resolutions condemning the crackdown.
The SNC criticized the plan as too ambiguous though it said
it contained some new, positive elements. Other opposition groups called it a
waste of time and vowed as they always do not to negotiate with Assad or
members of his "murderous" regime.
"Every day I ask myself, do they not see how the Syrian
people are being slaughtered?" veteran opposition figure Haitham Maleh
asked. "It is a catastrophe. The country has been destroyed and they want
us then to sit with the killer?"
Maleh described the agreement reached in Geneva as a
"farce" and of "no value on the ground."
"The Syrian people are the ones who will decide the
battle on the ground, not those sitting in Geneva or New York or anywhere
else," he said by telephone from Cairo, where opposition groups are to
The Local Coordination Committees, a key activist network,
said it was "very concerned" over the vague language used in the
"This provides yet another opportunity for the regime's
thugs to play their favorite game in utilizing time in order to stop the
popular Syrian revolution and extinguish it with violence and massacres,"
it said in a statement.
The U.N. plan was brokered by special envoy for Syria Kofi
Annan, who in March submitted a six-point peace plan that he said the Assad
regime accepted. It led to the April 12 ceasefire that failed to hold. U.N.
observers sent to monitor the ceasefire suspended their patrols in Syria on
June 16 due to a spike in violence and have been confined to their hotels
Moscow had refused to back a provision that would call for
Assad to step aside, insisting that outsiders cannot order a political solution
for Syria and accusing the West of ignoring the darker side of the Syrian
opposition. The opposition has made clear it would not take part in a
government in which Assad still held power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the
plan does not require Assad's ouster, saying there is "no attempt in the
document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process."
Even as the international powers met to find a solution, the
death toll mounted on Saturday. Activists said dozens were killed and wounded
in a powerful explosion Saturday evening that hit a funeral procession in a
suburb of the capital Damascus. Details of the blast in Zamalka were still
murky on Sunday. But amateur videos showed gruesome images of bodies, some with
their limbs torn, lying on the ground as people walked about dazed in a cloud
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
more than 30 people were killed, while the LCC said it had documented the names
of 40 of the dead and that residents were unable to identify an unknown number
of remaining bodies.
Activists blamed government forces for the explosion, which
they said was likely the result of a car bomb detonated near a mosque where the
funeral of an activist killed by regime gunmen was being held.
The SNC did not explain how it arrived at the death toll of
800 for the past week. But it said in a statement that most of the dead were
killed in indiscriminate tank and helicopter shelling by regime forces on
residential areas throughout Syria.
Death tolls are virtually impossible to verify in
tightly-controlled Syria, which imposes severe restrictions on journalists.
But Khalil Al Haj Saleh, a member of the Local Coordination
Committees activist network, said the 800 figure appears to be
"realistic" in light of the past week's carnage.
The LCC and the Observatory have reported an average of
around 100 Syrians killed in the past week.
Turkey scrambled its jets days after it said it would treat
any Syrian military unit approaching its border as a direct threat in response
to the downing of a Turkish reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces. Turkey has
also reinforced its border with anti-aircraft guns and other weapons.
The military said the two helicopters flew as close as 4
miles (6.5 kilometers) to the border province of Hatay on Saturday morning and