Ahrar al-Sham blasts "diplomatic
dictates" on Syria opposition

"There is no value for us in negotiations that are imposed to entrench the rule of Syria's butcher," the Islamist group said.

Ahrar al-Sham fighters. (image via Eldorar.com)

BEIRUT – One of the most powerful Islamist rebel groups in Syria has blasted diplomatic pressure on the opposition following reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry browbeat opposition figures to attend peace talks scheduled to begin Friday in Geneva.


"We are surprised that the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has been subjected to diplomatic pressures in order to push it to sit at the negotiation table with the Assad regime without the implementation of any of the trust-building clauses that are actually unnegotiable 'human rights'," Ahrar al-Sham said in a statement issued Monday.


The HNC, which was formed following a mid-December meeting of opposition political and military representatives including Ahrar al-Sham, has taken up the mantle of representing Syria's rebels in the upcoming Geneva talks.


However, Russia has rejected the HNC, saying that Ahrar and Jaysh al-Islam are terrorist groups, and has called for Moscow-friendly figures to be included in any opposition delegation.


Meanwhile, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura has been scrambling to set an invite list for the six-month talks that will seek first to agree on a ceasefire and then a comprehensive political solution to the war.


The HNC is scheduled to meet later Tuesday to discuss whether it will join the talks on Friday, after its spokesperson signaled the opposition would boycott the Geneva process if airstrikes and sieges on rebel territory continue unabated.


Ahrar calls on opposition to stick to principles


Ahrar said in its statement that the HNC has been pushed to "relinquish any preconditions concerning Assad's fate," in reference to reports the opposition was told Assad would have the right to run for re-election.


"We in Ahrar al-Sham reject the pressures and dictates to which the High Negotiations Committee is being subjected."


"We call on true and faithful people to hold onto the constants of the Syrian people's revolution and the clauses that were agreed upon [as a precondition] to the initiation of any negotiations," the Islamist group added.


Ahrar al-Sham further warned that any opposition groups who agree to join the talks on unfavorable terms "will be a false witness and a participant to the squandering of their people's revolution."


"There is no value for us in negotiations that are imposed to entrench the rule of Syria's butcher."


Kerry presses Syria opposition


Reports have emerged in the past few days that Kerry has put pressure on the HNC to attend the Geneva talks on unfavorable terms during a contentious meeting Saturday in Riyadh with committee chief Riad Hijab.


Alaraby Aljadeed reported Sunday that Kerry issued "clear dictates from Russia and Iran" during the "catastrophic" sit-down with the opposition figure.


A source told the London-based daily that the top US diplomat said the Geneva talks would aim for a "national-unity government" instead of the opposition's demands for a transitional one.


Kerry also reportedly said that Assad would have the right to run in a future presidential election, which is another red-line for Syria's opposition.


Al-Hayat published a similar report the following day, claiming Kerry also told the HNC that the opposition's delegation had to include Syrian Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim as well as Russian-backed politician Qadri Jamil, both of whom are figures detested by the Riyadh-backed opposition team.


Following the reports, HNC members publicly admitted that Kerry had pressured them, with Fuad Aliko telling AFP that the Riyadh meeting with the US secretary of state was "neither comfortable, nor positive."


He added that Kerry had told Hijab the opposition could "lose friends" if it stuck to its demands.


"This talk means a halt to political and military support to the opposition," Aliko told the agency.


NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material.

Ahrar al-Sham fighters. (image via Eldorar.com)

We in Ahrar al-Sham reject the pressures and dictates to which the High Negotiations Committee is being subjected.

  • Cripes

    Neither Ahrar al-Sham nor Jaysh al-Islam are 'terrorist' groups, as Russia and Iran have decided to claim. They are not designated as terrorist groups by the UN, EU, USA or really anyone else. Both have signed up to the UN principles of a democratic, non-sectarian future state. Both have been elected to the opposition committee, by a largely secular body. It is important that Islamist groups play a part in the democratic process, rather than fight on outside it. So what is Russia’s problem? The real issue is that these are Sunni Islamist groups, which is anathema to Assad; his regime of the minorities has used state power to suppress the Sunni majority, so as to keep his Shia Alawite regime in power. Nobody should be impressed by Russian and Iranian propaganda on this ‘terrorist’ point, Assad used it at Geneva 1 and 11 as a diversion to block discussion of the real issues and here he goes again, with his sponsors to the fore. It is laughable really, when one of the largest, UN-designated terrorist groups operating in Syria is helping prop up Assad’s regime, Hezbollah.

    January 26, 2016