Share This Page

Rebels' alliance with al-Qaida adds urgency to Syria conference

| Sunday, April 14, 2013, 7:36 p.m.

International powers will search for a peaceful settlement to Syria's civil war with fresh urgency at an Istanbul meeting after a rebel faction aligned itself with al-Qaida, diplomats and opposition sources said on Sunday.

The meeting on Saturday of 11 countries from the Friends of Syria alliance will occur after the al-Nusra Front, among the strongest formations seeking to topple President Bashar Assad, pledged allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri on April 10.

“We will be meeting under the shadow of the advances of Nusra and other militants. The recent al-Qaida statements have injected a new urgency for the international community to push to end the conflict,” said an official who will attend the meeting on the conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.

Western powers, which want to see the end of the Assad family's 43-year rule but do not want to intervene militarily in Syria, have been alarmed by the advance of groups like the Nusra Front in a conflict, which has deepened the Middle East's sectarian divide.

Among those invited to Istanbul will be Moaz Alkhatib, a moderate cleric from Damascus, who said he was resigning as head of the Syrian National Coalition in March after other members of the main opposition group attacked his proposal for negotiating with Assad, the sources said.

Envoys representing most of the 11 Friends of Syria countries met in Cairo this month to press Alkhatib to stay on as leader of the Syrian National Coalition, a 60-member opposition umbrella group backed by the West and gulf Arab states, the sources said.

Those at the Istanbul meeting also will discuss how to pressure Assad, who has been backed by Iran and Russia, into accepting a negotiated settlement, the diplomats said.

“The international powers are inclined to call Assad's bluff and see if he is ready to accept a peaceful solution,” another diplomat said, adding that Russia also might favor such a move.

The conflict, which pits the Sunni Muslim majority against Assad's supporters among his Alawite sect, has prompted Sunni and Shiite militants from elsewhere in the Middle East to fight in Syria. The Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.