Syrian legislator praises aspects of plan to end war

AP News
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Posted: Nov 15, 2015 12:23 PM

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A Syrian legislator praised parts of an international plan for ending Syria's conflict on Sunday, saying elements of it are similar to those of President Bashar Assad's government even as an opposition figure said all regional and world powers appear to be convinced that Assad must go.

Lawmaker Omar Ossi, who heads parliament's national reconciliation committee, told The Associated Press that the plan has many points that "run in harmony" with Assad's position that combatting "terrorism" should be a priority. Ossi called the plan "a victory for Syrian policy and diplomacy."

Foreign ministers from about 20 nations agreed in Vienna on Saturday to an ambitious yet incomplete plan that sets a Jan. 1 deadline for the start of negotiations between Assad's government and opposition groups.

Within six months, the negotiations between the Syrian sides are to establish "credible, inclusive and non-sectarian" transitional government that would set a schedule for drafting a new constitution and holding a free and fair U.N.-supervised election within 18 months, according to a joint statement released by the United Nations on behalf of the 19 parties to the talks.

U.S.-Russian disputes on what, if any role, Assad should play in any transition remained after Saturday's meeting in Vienna, although U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov played them down as they focused on the progress made.

Washington wants Assad removed, but Kerry suggested Syrians themselves would decide the fate of the Syrian president through the democratic process.

Ossi said Assad's fate "will be definitely defined by the Syrian people only."

Still, Ossi said he didn't expect much from the Vienna meeting "because terrorist groups and some regional states" have no interest in launching a political process in Syria as they are still "betting on the issue of toppling the Syrian regime by the military force." He was referring to supporters of the opposition such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

Abdelbaset Sieda, a senior member of the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said that after all the violence in Syria since March 2011, "all parties are convinced that it is impossible for Assad to continue as long as there is a will to keep Syria united."

"Even the Iranians and the Russians are convinced that Assad has lost the authority to be president," Sieda said by telephone. He said those two countries, Assad's strongest backers, are sticking with him only to wring out concessions that benefit them during the negotiations.

The process to end Syria's crisis is going to be long and violence might intensify "as a form of political pressure," Sieda warned. He said there are "positive points" in the new plan, including a focus on a political transition and work toward a roadmap to make that happen.

Also Sunday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem stressed that eliminating terrorism is a necessity to preserve international stability and peace and is "a basic introduction for any political solution for the current crisis in Syria."

He made the comments during a meeting with deputy Czech Foreign Minister Martin Tlapa, the official Syrian Arab News Agency said.

Neither the Syrian government nor opposition groups were present at the talks, which brought together the main foreign backers of both sides.

Meanwhile, an explosion in the southern village of Jamlah targeted a meeting of top officials from the extremist Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, killing its leader Abu Ali al-Baridi, activists said. The group has paid allegiance to the Islamic State group and has for months been fighting other insurgents including al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Syria Press Center, an opposition media arm, reported the explosion and said other top officials were also killed in the blast. They said the Nusra Front was behind the explosion. Jamlah is about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

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Mroue reported from Beirut.