Syrian opposition groups make new bid to unite against al-Assad

Opponents are reviving a decade-old campaign against Syria’s president at two-day talks in Qatar.

Riyad Hijab is seen talking
Opposition chief Riad Hijab said at the meeting in Doha the opposition must 'correct' past mistakes [File: Christophe Archambault/AFP]

Syrian opposition figures launched a new bid to revive their decade-old campaign against President Bashar al-Assad at talks in Qatar, where a senior leader said they had to “correct” past mistakes.

The political groups, now mainly based abroad, have seen their influence wane in recent years as Iran and Russia steadfastly supported the Syrian president after he instigated a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2011 that quickly descended into a war.

Riad Hijab, who defected to the opposition when he was al-Assad’s prime minister in 2012, told the opening of the two-day meeting on Saturday that events in Syria were “grim”.

He said the meeting must “assess our progress and correct the errors we have made along the difficult path to achieving a unified, free, democratic state”.

The opposition figure did not say what mistakes had been made, but his entourage said opposition parties failed to communicate with Syrian citizens and make themselves relevant to their daily struggles.

Hijab said it was “imperative” for the opposition to “implement effective plans” to counter al-Assad’s government and “to expose the false concept that Assad can abandon Iranian dominance”.

A list of recommendations aiming to “unify” the opposition would be released at the end of the talks, a statement said.

Salem al-Meslet, head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said it was important to “send a message to all Syrians, listen to their advice and make a new plan”.

With international talks on Syria’s future at a deadlock, al-Meslet said a united opposition would also send “an important message to the UN envoy” on the conflict.

The last round of UN-organised peace talks in October failed to make any progress, and special envoy Geir Pedersen highlighted “great mistrust on all sides”.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in November regional nations should avoid getting closer to the Syrian government.

Syria’s war has killed close to half a million people and spurred the displacement of tens of millions.

Source: AFP