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Syria's main opposition group denounces Assad but doesn't call for his ouster.
The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) on Thursday said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot be part of any "political solution" for the war-torn country but shied away from directly calling for his ousting, according to a draft opposition group statement seen by Reuters.
The recently-formed SNC met in Cairo on Thursday alongside a 70-nation coalition representing Turkish, Arab and Western efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict between the regime and anti-government rebels, violence has taken some 60,000 lives over the past 23 months.
"Bashar al-Assad and the military and security apparatus commands are responsible for the decisions that have led the country to what it is now, are outside the political process and are not part of any political solution in Syria," the SNC's draft statement said, according to Reuters.
"They have to be held accountable for the crimes they have committed."
The communiqué to be debated by the Syrian opposition coalition in Cairo is indicative of the split that exists between the respective opposition groups based inside and outside of Syria.
Cairo has long been a hub for the non-militarized opposition figures, as opposed to Turkey or Jordan which both host Syrian rebel commanders. And while the coalition’s president, Moaz Al Khatib, has drafted a document that would authorize negotiating with Syrian regime figures, reports say that rebel groups inside Syria are generally opposed to the idea.
A powerful group within the coalition itself is reluctant to endorse a document that would seek direct talks with the Syrian regime, and downplays calls for Assad to step down. The coalition will debate the draft in Cairo on Thursday and Friday. But the elephant in the room is that even if the coalition throws its weight by the communiqué drafted by Khatib, they hold little sway over the disparate rebel groups that are inching their way towards and staging major attacks inside the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Cairo’s own initiative to resolve the conflict, by holding talks between Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, failed to make any headway. Egypt's government is seen as widely supportive of Syria's Sunni-dominated political opposition.
SNC delegate Khaled Nasser told Agence-France Press the Cairo talks' "agenda is long and among the issues to be discussed is the initiative of Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib," who earlier said he would engage in talks with select members of Assad's regime.
Khatib's offer does not appear to have full SNC support, however, according to AFP.
Assad says he is willing to engage in talks as long as there are no strings attached, said AFP.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is set to arrive in Russia, a key Assad ally, as part of United Nations-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi's effort to get various sides to come together to discuss ways to stop the bloodshed, said Reuters.
Brahimi's mandate, set to expire on Friday, was renewed through 2013 by the United Nations and the Arab League on Thursday, according to officials cited by the Associated Press.