Syrians look at the damage after an alleged mortar attack by opposition forces on the Al Mahattah neighbourhood of the central city of Homs.
CORDOBA: Disparate Syrian opposition groups, including several Islamist rebel representatives, met for the first time in the Spanish city of Cordoba to seek common ground ahead of peace talks with President Bashar Al Assad’s government later this month.
Prospects for progress at the January 22 talks in Switzerland, appear dim. Assad, buttressed by recent military gains and a wave of rebel infighting, has flatly ruled out demands from the weakened opposition that he stand aside.
The two-day meeting in Spain brings together members of the Western-backed National Coalition but also delegates from opposition groups inside Syria that are tolerated by Assad as they do not call for his removal — and are therefore distrusted by many exiled opposition members.
“Most colours from Syria are represented here. There is even one person from Syrian security who supports Assad,” said veteran dissident Kamal Labwani.
At least three members of the Islamic Front had also come, he said. The front is made up of several Islamist brigades which represent a large portion of fighters on the ground and reject the authority of the National Coalition.
“We want them to be here. We will listen to them,” Labwani said. Differences between the delegates were too deep to bridge at the meeting, he added, but it would aim to create a dialogue among them.
Diplomats say the gathering is recognition that the divided National Coalition — which has yet to formally accept an invitation to attend the talks — is losing influence on the ground and a more comprehensive grouping is needed.
In Syria, at least 18 people, including women and children, were killed by a car bomb that went off near a school in the village of Al Kafat in central Syria yesterday, a monitoring group said.
The death toll was likely to rise because some of the dozens of people wounded were in critical condition, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Elsewhere, loyalist forces killed at least 45 Syrian rebels as they sought to break a regime siege on part of Homs.
The Observatory said the rebels, from different brigades, were killed late on Wednesday and early yesterday as they attempted to end an army siege that has lasted more than a year.