RIYADH: The Syrian opposition’s chief negotiator, Nasr al-Hariri, called for a renewal of UN-brokered peace talks while acknowledging “significant military losses” by rebel forces, in an interview with AFP.
The rebels have “not lost the war” ravaging his country since 2011, the head of the Syrian Negotiation Commission insisted Thursday, playing down the likelihood of an all-out regime assault on the last major rebel bastion of Idlib in northwestern Syria.
Hariri took aim at the international community for having allowed regime ally Russia to determine the course of the war since its 2015 military intervention.
“By international consensus, military and non-military support for the opposition has been stopped, as well as political support to a great extent,” he said in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Moscow, meanwhile, has been allowed “to intervene as it wants”.
“Militarily, the opposition has lost considerable ground. All we have left is the political process, on the basis of the Geneva declaration and (UN) Resolution 2254,” he said, referring to calls for the formation of a transitional government and free elections.
Several rounds of UN-sponsored talks in Switzerland have failed over the opposition’s demand for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, a condition which his regime has ruled out.
The government has since Russia’s military intervention in September 2015 notched up a string of battlefield victories and now controls more than 60 percent of Syrian territory.
Hariri said Turkish “guarantees” over Idlib would likely bar a regime assault on the northwest province.
“It will be difficult for the regime, Iran and Russia to launch any operation unless Turkish troops withdraw,” said the opposition negotiator, a trained cardiologist.
But on the same day, Assad told Russian media his regime’s next priority would be retaking Idlib province, currently dominated by rebels and jihadists.
“Now Idlib is our goal, but not just Idlib,” Assad said, in comments carried Thursday on Russian newswires.
“The military — and it is at their discretion — will decide priorities and Idlib is one of these priorities,” he said.
Hariri voiced bitterness at Western and Arab supporters of the opposition that in 2012 formed a Friends of Syria group which has faded since Russia’s intervention.
“May it rest in peace,” he said, while also lambasting international efforts.
“Unfortunately, today Syrian blood has become a commodity on international markets and bazaars,” Hariri said.
He pointed to a reluctant acceptance that Moscow would play a key role in any settlement.
“We are not counting on the regime… Our wager is on the state (Russia) that is supporting the regime, even if it continues to battle alongside it and to commit crimes with it.”
The war in Syria has killed more than 350,000 people since it began in 2011 with a brutal government crackdown on protesters. It has grown in complexity over the past seven years, drawing in world powers and jihadists.