Step down or face forcible removal, Assad told

December 10, 2015, 3:38pm

dpa on News24

Beirut - Saudi Arabia, a staunch backer of Syria's opposition, on Thursday told President Bashar Assad to leave through negotiations or face forcible removal from power.

The warning was made by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir as Syria's disparate opposition groups were meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to discuss al-Assad's future role and build a united front.

"Assad will leave with no doubt either by a political solution, which can be easier for all, or he will leave through a military solution because he is no longer wanted by the Syrian people," al-Jubeir said in Riyadh.

The oil-rich kingdom is a financial and diplomatic backer of the Syrian opposition fighting to oust Assad.

The Western-backed opposition and armed rebels have repeatedly insisted that there will be no role for Assad in the future of Syria.

But Assad's two close allies, Russia and Iran, said his political fate should be up to Syrians to decide.

The Riyadh talks, which started on Wednesday, come ahead of proposed peace negotiations between the Syrian opposition and Assad's government.

The participants in the Riyadh gathering agreed on forming a 23-member body to prepare for negotiations with Assad's regime, an opposition source said.

The conferees are also discussing behind closed doors the formation of a unified delegation to represent the opposition at the negotiations planned for next month, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

"It has been proposed that the number of the opposition delegation should not exceed 15 members," the source said without giving other details.

In a new development on Thursday, Syrian Islamist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham withdrew from the talks, citing under-representation at the gathering.

"Our national and religious duties oblige our withdrawal from the conference because the revolutionary groups were not given their real representation," the group says in a statement.

'Basic future'

Meanwhile, Ahmad Soner, a member of the main Syrian opposition National Coalition, said the participants in the Riyadh talks agreed on Wednesday on eight points, which he described as basic for the future of Syria.

He said the points included fighting terrorism, rejecting the presence of foreign fighters in Syria, preserving the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and setting up a civilian, democratic government.

More than 100 opposition representatives ranging from secularist politicians tolerated by Assad's regime to hardline Islamist rebels are attending the Riyadh conference.

The meeting comes amid international pressure on the opposition to unify their ranks and negotiate with Assad's government to reach a political solution to the country's conflict, now in its fifth year.

Syria's moderate opposition factions have been weakened by divisions, allowing jihadist rebels, mainly Islamic State, to establish a foothold in the country.

Top diplomats from 20 countries met in Vienna in October for talks on Syria. For the first time, Iran was at the conference table for those talks. A major sticking point in Vienna was the fate of Assad, who has been in power since 2000.