Skip to main content

Syrian rebels warn against talks with regime

By Steve Almasy and Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
October 27, 2013 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
  • NEW: The U.N. special envoy on Syria is headed to Damascus
  • Nineteen groups are part of the Islamist rebel coalition
  • Opposition group is against Iran's participation in proposed conference
  • Syria cooperating with chemical weapons inspections

(CNN) -- Nineteen Syrian rebel groups have spurned participation in peace talks and rattled a saber toward those who decide to engage with Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"We consider participation in Geneva II and negotiating with the regime is trading the blood of martyrs and treason, and those will be held accountable in our courts," the coalition said in a video statement Sunday.

The groups said they'll reject outright any resolution that does not call for ousting the al-Assad government and holding its members accountable for war crimes.

According to the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict. It began in March 2011 when government forces cracked down on peaceful protesters during the Arab Spring movement and has morphed into a full-blown civil war.

A proposed conference in Geneva, Switzerland, between Syrian government officials and opposition leaders, intended to broker an end to the country's civil war, has been delayed several times but is tentatively scheduled for the end of November.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos
Syrian snipers target women and children
Millions of Syrians, no homes

During the war, many opposition groups have emerged, and their politics range from militant Islamist to relatively pro-Western.

This particular consortium of 19 opposition groups is a coalition of mostly Islamist rebels who aren't part of the hard-line radical fringe that has ties with al Qaeda inside Syria.

The portion of the statement calling involvement in the talks "treason" and warning of accountability "in our courts" is directed at -- and publicly undermines -- the figurehead umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, which is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

For its part, the SNC delayed again by a week its date to vote on participation in the talks -- indicating difficulty within the ranks on finding consensus.

Further, the delay in the decision, coupled with a very clear message from opposition fighting forces on the ground, suggests the coalition has little constituency in Syria.

More generally, the implications for the talks are not good.

The U.S. strategy in arranging these talks was that Russia would cinch the Syrian government's involvement, and the United States would get the opposition to the table. The developments are a significant setback to hopes for inclusive, effective Syria peace talks.

Iran will participate in upcoming Syria talks -- if invited

World powers shoot for negotiations

In the wake of the groups' rejection, the U.N. special envoy on Syria said that invitations for Geneva II are not yet out, nor is the list of those who will participate, according to spokesman Khawla Mattar.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the envoy, is headed to Damascus on Monday.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said last week that the talks will aim to bring about a democratic transition for Syria in which al-Assad plays no part.

Hague's words followed a "Friends of Syria" meeting that brought together foreign ministers from countries including the United States, Britain, France, Turkey and Gulf nations with Syrian opposition leaders.

Iran -- an ally of the Syrian regime and a supporter in its stance toward the rebels -- said Saturday it will take part in the proposed conference if it receives an invitation, according to the Iranian news agency IRNA.

But Sunday, the coalition announced it will not participate in the talks if Iran is there, the spokesman for the opposition group said in a statement.

"They (Iran) were not present in Geneva I talks. They are part of the problem, not the solution," said Louay Safi, making reference to Iran's activities in Syria.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters Saturday: "Iran will do its best to help solve the issue through dialogue between the Syrian parties."

The United States and Russia announced in May that they would try to bring the warring parties to a second conference in Geneva to implement the peace plan they endorsed at Geneva I in 2012, which left open the question of whether al-Assad must leave power.

Hillary Clinton defends U.S. surveillance tactics

Deadline met for plan destroying chemical weapons

Syria has met its deadline for submitting a plan for getting rid of its chemical weapons, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Sunday.

Damascus also sent a declaration covering activities not prohibited by the chemical weapons treaties as a "confidence-building measure," the organization said in a written statement.

International weapons inspectors have been in Syria this month to begin verifying and destroying its chemical weapons arsenal.

On Thursday, the OPCW said its inspectors had visited 19 of 23 chemical weapons sites disclosed by Damascus.

But the Syrian opposition has protested that the Syrian government has done nothing to stop the killing of civilians using conventional weapons.

Group: Iran could quickly make uranium for nuclear bomb

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1248 GMT (2048 HKT)
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1141 GMT (1941 HKT)
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 2117 GMT (0517 HKT)
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 2025 GMT (0425 HKT)
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0804 GMT (1604 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
June 2, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
June 3, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1610 GMT (0010 HKT)
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1019 GMT (1819 HKT)
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 0141 GMT (0941 HKT)
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
May 20, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.