Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Terrorism diverts Vienna from its goal

The Syrian opposition believes the Paris terrorist attacks benefited the Syrian regime and impacted the outcome of the Vienna conference, derailing it from its goal, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

The third Vienna conference ended on 14 November with the 17 countries attending — representing the contact group on Syria, the EU and UN — agreeing on broad strokes to resolve the Syrian crisis.

The terror attacks in Paris on the eve of the conference, however, impacted the outcome of the conference, and the results were unsatisfactory for the majority of the Syrian opposition.

The Vienna participants agreed to support and implement a ceasefire in Syria, under the auspices of the UN, as soon as representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition begin steps towards a political transition, based on the Geneva 2012 communiqué, creating a credible, comprehensive and nonsectarian regime and writing a constitution within six months. Elections, under international supervision, would be held within 18 months.

However, the issue of combating terrorism dominated the conference, especially since the meeting convened just one day after terrorist attacks in Paris killed 129.

The Vienna conference did not discuss Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s fate or his role during the transitional phase, nor criticise his regime in a single phrase, or the war he is waging, or the use of heavy and indiscriminate weapons, or his regime’s sponsorship of out-of-control sectarian militias.

The conference stressed the importance of fighting terrorist groups and the need to draft lists of terrorist groups in Syria in preparation for eradicating them. This is a joint Russian-Iranian demand, to expand the list of terrorist groups that are viewed as Syrian opposition.

The impact of the terrorist attacks in Paris on the Syrian crisis was also apparent at the G-20 summit hosted in Anatolia, Turkey, on Sunday. The Syrian crisis was completely marginalised, with the attention of participants focused on the need to combat terrorism.

The Syrian opposition said the regime is the biggest benefactor from the Paris attacks because the attacks succeeded in changing the position of world leaders, making them forget the Syrian crisis, the crimes of the regime and Russian and Iranian military intervention in Syria.

Two days before the conference, the Syrian opposition and some of the countries supporting them were expecting Vienna to discuss Al-Assad’s fate and the timeline of his removal. But this did not happen. The Paris attacks transformed the meeting from a venue seeking ways to change the regime politically and gradually, into a conference seeking ways to combat terrorism.

Osama Abu Zeid, legal adviser to the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), expressed the sentiments of most Syrians who oppose the regime. “The aim of the terrorist attacks in Paris was to embarrass France, which is the main European country insisting that Al-Assad is the source of terrorism, and his removal must be one of the first steps to eliminate Islamic State,” Abu Zeid told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Any rational person will realise that the biggest benefactor from the attacks hours before Vienna is the Syrian regime.”

In the few hours between the terror attacks and the start of the Vienna conference, Syrians tried to alert countries meeting in Vienna that the Syrian regime is benefiting from these attacks. They stressed that the conference should not become a platform for combating terrorism while forgetting the suffering of the Syrian people from daily terrorism by both the regime and terrorist groups.

They recalled the many videos and interviews that incriminate the Syrian regime, including Al-Assad vowing that terrorism would turn on Europe if it continues to be hostile towards him. Also, Syria’s Mufti Ahmed Badr Hassoun, who threatened Europe and claimed that there are thousands of potential martyrs loyal to the Syrian regime in Europe, who are ready to carry out suicide attacks in the heart of the continent if Europe considered intervening militarily in Syria.

“After the Paris attacks the arena is wide open for the Russians and Iranians — and Americans, behind the scenes — to transform the Vienna conference into a gathering to combat terrorism in Syria,” Fawaz Tallo, a key opposition figure, told the Weekly.

“Just like they did after Geneva II, when they wanted the Syrian regime to be a partner in the solution with its intelligence agencies and army. And Iran would be a partner with its militias and the Russians partners with their air strikes. The Paris attacks helped the Syrian regime, Iran and Russia derail the Vienna conference onto a dubious path.”

Apart from asking who has benefited from the Paris attacks, the Syrian opposition, as usual, is divided in its evaluation. Although it is unhappy that Al-Assad’s fate, departure and role in the transition period were not discussed, some opposition forces are somewhat optimistic that this is a step forward.

Loay Hussein, head of the opposition Building the State, is optimistic, unlike the majority in the Syrian opposition. Hussein believes that the Paris attacks will propel the world community to resolve the Syrian crisis.

“We can say it is the beginning of the end of the Syrian crisis,” he said. “The Vienna meeting is a great accomplishment, and the Paris attacks were decisive for the international community to decide on serious action to end the Syrian crisis. As Syrians who want to take back our country and return as free people to our homeland, we must now rise up and cooperate. And we must know how to be victorious.”

Ahmed Kamel, media officer for the Syrian opposition coalition, disagrees entirely. “The Vienna meeting concluded with everyone bending to Russia. The departure of Al-Assad is no longer a precondition, either in the transitional phase or in the end,” said Kamel.

“UN envoy Stefan di Mestura will choose who will represent the Syrian people from the opposition, while Russia and Jordan will decide which are the terrorist groups in Syria. This will undoubtedly include the majority of armed opposition factions, and not include the regime, Iranian militias or Hezbollah. A national unity government will be formed, not a transitional governing body with a full mandate as stipulated by [the] Geneva [communiqué].”

Monzer Aqbiq, a member of the opposition coalition, took the middle ground. Said Aqbiq: “I have very guarded optimism and believe the Syrian crisis is on its way to being resolved. It begins with a ceasefire, then the regime is changed through a comprehensive political process with the approval of Russia and Iran. However, the devil is in the details.”

A close reading of the Vienna declaration confirms there is much ambiguity, generalisation and lack of specifics, raising many questions and opening the door for many contrary interpretations. This is worse than the Geneva declaration that each party interpreted differently and failed to implement until today, despite the passage of three years since it was adopted by major world powers.

Syrians now wait to see how serious the world community is about ending the Syrian crisis. They expect the UN to quickly decide on the measures to implement the outcome of Vienna. Detailed decisions that are binding to all parties are still to be issued, especially a decision to send international ceasefire monitors and the start date for talks between the opposition and the regime.

They are also waiting for countries concerned with Syria to show tangible goodwill to end the war and start a political solution that will transform Syria from a totalitarian regime into a plural democracy with rotation of power.

Otherwise, for the Syrians, Vienna will become just another failed step in a long string of failures.

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