Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Terror slant at Geneva II

The Syrian regime is claiming that the main aim of the Geneva II conference is to pursue the fight against terrorism, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

This week’s Geneva II conference, billed as a possible harbinger of peace in the Syrian crisis, had been straying off course even before it started. Over the past few weeks, the Syrian regime led by President Bashar Al-Assad has been acting as if the only goal of the conference was to eliminate “terrorism”, a category which it has defined to include the actions of most of its opponents.
Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition, alarmed by the prospect of this international conference swaying from the one goal that it wants to see respected, which is the radical transformation of the country’s government and preferably the departure of Al-Assad and his ruling clique, is trying to remind its friends of the original purpose of the conference.
Syrian officials are arguing that it is impossible for them to hand over power to the opposition and that Syria’s higher interest is to fight terror. The Syrian parliamentary speaker lashed out at Saudi Arabia, for example, which he blamed for the country’s descent into chaos. “There is a need for a genuine desire to fight terror and expose its financiers and backers, especially Saudi Arabia,” he recently stated.
The speaker went on to describe Saudi Arabia as a “factory of terror”, claiming that Riyadh was bent on spreading its hardline Wahabist version of Islam across the world.
Syria was fighting a war waged by terrorist groups whose members came from more than 80 countries, the Syrian foreign minister added.
“The Geneva conference should focus on fighting terror and forcing countries that provide support for terrorist groups to stop their financing and arming of these groups,” he said. Speaking in the same vein, the Syrian information minister said that his country “will not go to Geneva to hand over power to the Muslim Brotherhood or to those who represent Qatar or Turkey or Saudi Arabia or America or Israel.”
Damascus was not willing to give up its national sovereignty, but was prepared to discuss ways of expelling foreign terrorist groups, the information minister stated. Meanwhile, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad accused France, Britain, and other Western countries of backing terrorists in the country.
The Syrian position was backed by the Iranians and Russians, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying that Geneva II must “insist on the expulsion of terrorists” from Syria. Rouhani obviously does not consider Iran’s allies in the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah or the Iraqi militia that is fighting alongside the Syrian regime to be terrorists.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the most important thing that could happen during Geneva II would be the formation of a “coalition between the government and the Syrian nationalist forces to fight the alien terrorist groups that have come from all over the world to Syria to carry out their evil designs.”
Over the past year or so, extremist groups have proved a force to be contended with in the Syrian conflict. The proliferation of these groups and the atrocities they have inflicted on local people have caused alarm not only in Syria but also across the region.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) tops the list of the suspected terrorist organisations working in Syria, with international observers noting that the group may have committed war crimes in the conflict. ISIS is also known to have fought against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other armed opposition groups.
Fighters from other extremist organisations, some of them loyal to Al-Qaeda, have occupied large swathes of northern Syria. The opposition claims that such groups are being aided and abetted by the government in an attempt to tarnish the image of the opposition that has come close to ousting it from power. Opposition members note that whenever the extremists take charge of a city, the Syrian regime stops shelling it immediately.
Over the past few months, extremist groups have detained and executed peace activists, journalists, and intellectuals, as well as FSA fighters. On more than one occasion, the groups have prevented other armed opposition groups from occupying areas held by the regime. Sometimes their actions have prevented the opposition from imposing a blockade on regime forces.
The extremists are also said to be looting medical and other supplies and preventing them from reaching the general population. According to some reports, the extremists are now guarding petroleum facilities that still supply the regime with oil.
The country’s official media is now branding all the groups associated with the opposition as terrorists. Syrian officials claim that anyone fighting the government is by definition a terrorist — a description which applies to the prospective negotiators at Geneva II.
What the regime does not mention is that the international community has branded many of its supporters, including Hizbullah, as terrorists. The regime also makes no mention of the fact that it has organised and armed thousands of so-called “people’s committees”, groups of combatants who are known to have engaged in acts of terror.
The Syrian opposition maintains that the regime, which has used heavy artillery to kill more than 150,000 of its own people and displaced and imprisoned many more, is the primary terrorist group in the country.
Ahmed Al-Jarba, leader of the Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF), said that opposition members attending Geneva II would focus on “fighting the terrorism of the regime” and of Al-Assad’s family.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the regime was “fuelling terror, and if we want to end the terror, the regime too must end.” Voicing similar sentiments, US secretary of state John Kerry said that Al-Assad was the one who had introduced terror into Syria. The UN, meanwhile, maintains that forming an interim government in Syria will be the conference’s main task and not the fight against terror.
Syrians who are opposed to the regime are the real victims of the terrorist groups, and they argue that the regime invited terrorists into the country in the first place. Syrian opposition figure Fawwaz Tallo is particularly concerned at the new slant the regime is trying to impart to Geneva II.
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Tallo said that once they arrived at the conference, “opposition negotiators will be flooded with details and formalities” that would distract them from the conference’s main aim, which was the handover of power.
He expected some members of the opposition to walk out, but these would be replaced by others willing to make concessions. “There will always be substitutes who are more willing to compromise on the revolution’s goals,” he said.
Tallo said that the conference was in danger of becoming a place to make deals on terrorism and not on regime change. “There will soon be nothing left on the negotiating table except the fight against the terrorists,” Tallo said. At this point, the only negotiators left would be the ones ready to side with the regime.
“Revolutionaries who refuse to reconcile themselves with the regime will be termed terrorists,” he added. 

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