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Syrian opposition accepts Saudi invite to peace talks

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The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) has accepted an invitation to join talks with other opposition groups in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Al Jazeera has learnt.

The SNC will decide on Monday evening which of its 20 members it will send to a conference in Riyadh later this month, Naghm al-Ghadri, the vice president, told Al Jazeera over the phone from Turkey on Tuesday.

“The Syrian Coalition, Local Coordination Committees, separate opposition members, 15 representatives of the Free Syrian Army and religious personnel will join together, following an invitation from Riyadh, to join the peace talks from December 11-13,” al-Ghadri said.

“The aim of this conference is to come out with a document in accordance with the Geneva communique, agreed on by all opposition sides.”

The communique was adopted after an action group under the Geneva II Conference on Syria on June 30, 2012, attended by the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the then UN peace envoy to Syria Kofi Annan. It included a political settlement comprising ending all violence, restoring institutions and creating a new constitutional order in Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Friday that Riyadh was in contact with various Syrian opposition groups about the coming meeting, with the hope of unifying their position ahead of peace talks in Vienna due in January.

“Riyadh is trying to bring as broad a cross-section of Syrian opposition groups as possible” Jubeir said, adding that groups on “terrorist lists”, such as ISIL, would not be part of the talks.

The SNC was established during November 2012 and is headed by Khaled Khoja. The group aims to replace Syria’s current leadership with a transitional government after achieving international recognition.

“When we held a meeting with the Saudis a while back they made it clear that [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad is not, and will not, be part of any peace process or transitional government in Syria,” the SNC’s al-Ghadri said.

“There will no one representing the Syrian government in the three day talks in Riyadh.

“This meeting is only for the Syrian opposition. The aim is to unify and hopefully agree on one document to be able to propose in the Vienna talks in January.

“We need to prepare for the transitional period that we hope Syria will go through soon. We want to prove to the international community that keeps criticising our efforts to unite, that we can agree and move forward with one goal. That is the aim of the Riyadh talks. We want to prove we can unite.”

When asked about the latest Russian intervention in Syria, al-Ghadri said Moscow has been targeting civilian areas across the country and have slowed down the political and peace process in Syria.

“Russia is proving a point. It has major influence over the Syrian government and nothing else. Syria is no longer run by individuals, but is backed and run by Iran and Russia. This has slowed down the political process to resolve the conflict in Syria.”

In recent efforts to unify support for the Free Syrian Army, the SNC has been planning the restructure of the military council and will announce the new formation soon.

“In a few days, we will announce the reformation of the oppositions military council under our ministry of defence, to clarify who the Free Syrian Army is and who we are fighting.”

More than a quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria’s conflict since it broke out in March 2011, while at least 11.8 million others have been displaced. Al Jazeera

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