By Erika Solomon
The head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) said on Tuesday that rebel forces loyal to him would not join a planned peace conference in Switzerland in January and would continue their fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad throughout the talks.
General Salim Idriss’s rejection highlights how challenging it will be for international mediators to get Syria’s warring and divided parties to the negotiating table.
Peace talks for the “Geneva 2” conference are set to begin on Jan. 22, the United Nations said on Monday, with the stated goal of agreeing on a mutually acceptable transitional government to bring Syria out of its 2-1/2-year conflict.
“Conditions are not suitable for running the Geneva 2 talks at the given date and we, as a military and revolutionary force, will not participate in the conference,” Idriss told the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera.
“We will not stop combat at all during the Geneva conference or after it, and what concerns us is getting needed weapons for our fighters.”
The Western-backed FSA is an umbrella group encompassing many rebel units, but opposition sources and analysts say its influence has already been reduced by influential Islamist groups who are making their own alliances that draw in the most powerful rebel forces on the ground.
The opposition has been badly divided over Geneva 2, with the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition’s umbrella political leadership which is also supported by the West, agreeing to talks despite strong resistance by fighters and activists on the ground.
Rebels are wary of the talks they feel do not represent them and which they fear will not ensure Assad’s ousting.