Syrian opposition praises Saudi FM position
Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Syrian opposition expressed its appreciation of the position taken by the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal with regards to the “Friends of Syria’ meeting that took place in Tunis yesterday. Prince Saudi al-Faisal had said that focusing on humanitarian aid to Syria was “not enough”, whilst he also described arming the Syrian rebels fighting against the al-Assad regime as being “an excellent idea.”
A Syrian opposition source who attended the “Friends of Syria” meeting yesterday and who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that the Saudi foreign minister looked “surprised” and “unhappy” upon hearing the conference’s final declaration, which called on an end for violence in Syria, pledged greater humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and recognized the Syrian National Council [SNC] as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but did not contain any calls for the Syrian rebels to be supported with arms. The source, who observed Prince Saudi al-Faisal speaking with SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun, said “it was as if he [Prince Saud al-Faisal] was telling him [Ghalioun] that we expected more”. The source also claimed that the Saudi foreign minister described the al-Assad regime as being a regime of “occupation”.
The Syrian opposition source also revealed that the Saudi delegation believes that “more than humanitarian assistance is required [in Syria]”. He added “the discussions during the conference did not reach the level of discussing the sacrifices of the Syrian people.”
Whilst SNC Executive Committee member Ahmed Ramadan informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Saudi position on the “Friends of Syria” meeting reflects Riyadh’s wish that the scope of the actions outlined during the meeting were greater, including “providing more support for the Syrian people and taking concrete action to protect Syrian civilians.”
He added that Prince Saud al-Faisal believes that merely providing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people was not enough, and that concrete actions must be taken to help the Syrian people, in addition to further international efforts to isolate the al-Assad regime. Ramadan claimed that the Saudi foreign minister had stressed the importance of supporting the SNC.
The SNC Executive Committee member also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Saudi position was “in response to the calls of the Syrian people at home, in terms of uniting Arab and international efforts, and working to quickly change the situation in the country” adding “the [al-Assad] regime is over, whether it likes it or not, by the will of the Syrian people.”
Ramadan stressed that “Syria has entered a new phase that will have important results and there will be another [Friends of Syria] meeting in Istanbul in three weeks’ time, followed by a later meeting in Paris.”
A number of Syrian opposition members were present at the Friends of Syria meeting yesterday including SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun, Secretary-General of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party Abdulhakim Bashar, SNC Executive member Haitham al-Maleh, Assyrian Democratic Organization representative Abdulahad Astepho, and revolutionary moment representative Muteih al-Butain, amongst others.
Speaking to reporters after the conference, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton revealed “we agreed on increasing the pressure on al-Assad, getting humanitarian aid in as quickly as possible and preparing for a democratic transition.” She added “that was my message, and that was the message of the chairman statement that reflected the consensus reached here.”
The Friends of Syria issued renewed calls for al-Assad to immediately halt the violence and allow humanitarian aid into areas affected by his regime’s brutal crackdown. The group also pledged to boost relief shipments and set up supply depots along Syria’s borders. In addition to this, the Friends of Syria group also vowed to step up ties with the SNC, taking a tentative step toward recognition by declaring the SNC to be “a legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, a possible precursor to calling it “the legitimate representative.”
Speaking during the conference, SNC president Burhan Ghalioun said “we welcome any assistance you might offer, or means to protect our brothers and sisters who are struggling to end the rule of tyranny,”. He stressed that the SNC’s ultimate goal is a free and democratic Syria where the rights of all citizens are respected and which is free of the “rule of the Mafia family”
SNC chief Burhan Ghalioun called for the continuation of the uprising until al-Assad was ousted or handed over power as per an Arab League plan. He also outlined his vision for the post-Assad era, calling for the “formation of a presidential council composed of national leaders and the formation of a transitional government of political, military and technocratic figures who have not fought against the revolution.”
He also proposed the creation of a council that would address the abuses of the al-Assad regime and prevent any political or sectarian reprisals, saying “this committee will work to reconcile and restore the sense of nationalism and human values that have been lacking during this crisis.”
The transitional period would end with elections to a parliament that would draw up a new constitution.
Ghalioun had previously sought to reassure Syrian Kurds that they would have a place in a post-Bashar al-Assad country, promising decentralised government and national recognition of Kurdish identity.
“The new Syria will have a decentralised government, thereby enabling local authorities to take control of their affairs” adding “your identity will be nationally recognised and respected and your rights as citizens will be assured. You will play a significant role in rebuilding the Syria of our dreams, the Syria of which we have been dreaming for decades.”
However speaking after the Friends of Syria conference, SNC president Burhan Ghalioun was downbeat, informing Reuters that “this conference does not meet the aspirations of the Syrian people.”