In a statement released on Sunday, a group of nineteen Syrian rebel factions jointly condemned the planned Geneva II conference as an “episode in the chain of conspiracies” against their revolution. They stated that any negotiation that does not stipulate—as a precondition—that Bashar al-Assad and his entire regime will be removed, is a form of treason. Whoever participates in them will be guilty of “selling the blood of our martyrs” and should be brought before a court.
The statement was read by Ahmed Eissa al-Sheikh, alias Abu Eissa, the commander of the Suqour al-Sham Brigades of Idleb. The rest of the roster read like a who’s who of the Syrian armed movement—particularly the northern and Damascene factions, and included most major Islamist factions. Taken together, these groups must surely control tens of thousands of fighters and the statement represents a further expansion of the anti-National Coalition bloc of insurgents that began to take shape in late September.
Apart from Suqour al-Sham and its Idleb-based splinter faction, the Dawoud Brigade, there was also the large Tawhid Brigade, the Noureddin al-Zengi Battalions of Aleppo, the Haqq Brigade of Homs, the Furqan Brigade of Quneitra, the Ansar al-Sham Battalions of Latakia, and so on. Most of the biggest groups around Damascus signed up, including the powerful Islam Army, the al-Habib al-Mustafa, Der’ al-Asima, and Shabab al-Houda Brigades—not to forget a relatively moderate Islamist network, the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, or the hardline Salafi group, Ahrar al-Sham, both of which have affiliates across the country.
Only a handful of prominent groups were not on the list. Two of them, the al-Qaida linked jihadi factions Jabhat al-Nosra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, are even more adamantly opposed to negotiations—their signatures would have been superfluous. A third, the Kurdish YPG militia, probably wants negotiations of some sort, but it is thoroughly alienated from the mainstream Arab opposition. As a secular Marxist faction sponsored by the PKK, the YPG plays its own game, and it is more often in conflict with the Arab opposition than with the regime.
The exiled National Coalition leadership of Ahmad al-Jarba was already uncomfortable with the idea of going to Geneva. Even if some National Coalition leaders may be flexible in private, there has been strong opposition from within its own ranks, not least from the Syrian National Council and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, with all these factions calling Geneva a crime, it would be suicidal for the National Coalition to go to the talks, unless it is somehow assured of a breakthrough.
If all this doesn’t signal the demise of the Geneva II project, I wonder what will. But perhaps the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has some last card up his sleeve—because what better place to bring something back from the dead than the city of Dr. Frankenstein?
We, the undersigned factions, declare that the Geneva II Congress has not been and will never be the choice of our people or a demand of our revolution. Rather, we consider it an episode in the chain of conspiracies that aim to envelop and abort the people’s revolution in Syria.
We reiterate that any solution that does not end Assad’s presence, including all his military support infrastructure and the security system, and that does not put those who participated in state terrorism on trial, will be rejected out of hand.
We consider participation at Geneva II and negotiations with the regime about anything other than this, to be the selling of the blood of our martyrs and a treachery that requires trial in court.
1. Suqour al-Sham Brigades.
2. Tawhid Brigade.
3. Dawoud Brigade.
4. Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigade.
5. Islamic Ahrar al-Sham Movement.
6. Haqq Brigade.
7. al-Habib al-Mustafa Brigades and Battalions.
8. Shabab al-Houda Battalions.
9. Noureddin al-Zengi Battalionas.
10. Der’ al-Asima Brigade.
11. Furqan Brigade.
12. Fatihin Regiment.
13. Ansar al-Sham Battalions.
14. Ajnad al-Sham.
15. Islam Army.
16. Second Division.
17. Nineteenth Division.
18. Syria Martyrs.
19. Mujahedi al-Sham Brigades.
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