Syrian opposition tries to forge common front in Madrid

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said that the factions attending the meeting represent the more moderate sector of the opposition

The principal Syrian opposition groups have convened in Madrid in an attempt to draw up a credible and internationally acceptable solution to the civil war in the Middle Eastern state. It is a difficult task that will require common ground to be sought among the factions that see the military route as the option, those which demand the complete overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad regime and others that would settle for the exile of the dictator and his family.

Some 86 members of opposition groups will participate in the two-day Meeting for National Syrian Consultation, which is being sponsored by the Spanish Foreign Ministry. Leading opposition figure Moaz al-Khatib is to close the symposium on Tuesday.

But even the leadership of Al-Khatib is an indication of the difficulty of bringing the Syrian opposition together. Under international pressure, Al-Khatib in April resigned as president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (CNS), which is recognized by more than 100 countries including the 27 EU member states and the United States. The election of a new president is also scheduled for this week.

The CNS and the Syrian National Council, which was absorbed into the former and whose leader, George Sabra, is acting president of the CNS, will be joined at the summit by military representatives. The Free Syrian Army, which coordinates rebel actions in the country, is represented as are radical Islamist militias, led by the Al-Nusra Front, of huge relevance on the battle front. However, Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo said that the factions attending the meeting represent the more moderate sector of the opposition.

The presence of Al-Nusra has raised suspicions in Brussels and Washington, which do not wish to back the opposition more conspicuously. The supply of arms to the rebels is currently blocked and military intervention vetoed by China and Russia. One of the objects of the Madrid meeting is to give Brussels new guarantees ahead of a May 31 debate on lifting the arms embargo.

Spain has supplied 4.7 million euros in humanitarian aid since the rebellion of March 2011 and the subsequent civil war. The government has maintained communication with the opposition in exile and groups within Syria that propose a political transition without Al-Assad but with some members of the existing apparatus, an opinion shared by the prime minister’s office.

On the ground in Syria, government forces backed by Hezbollah militia claimed on Monday to have retaken the strategic town of Qusair, which is less than 20 miles from Homs and a vital link for government forces to strongholds on the coast, and for rebels to receive supplies from Lebanon.

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