Syria opposition delays decision on peace talks until Jan 17

A man helps to pull a person out from under rubble at a site hit by what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, on Jan 7, 2014. Syria's exiled opposition has postponed
A man helps to pull a person out from under rubble at a site hit by what activists say was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus, on Jan 7, 2014. Syria's exiled opposition has postponed its decision on whether to take part in UN-hosted peace talks in Switzerland until January 17, following two days of heated debate in Turkey, members said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Syria's exiled opposition has postponed its decision on whether to take part in UN-hosted peace talks in Switzerland until January 17, following two days of heated debate in Turkey, members said.

The general assembly of the mainstream opposition National Coalition decided to suspend its debate and meet again in the Turkish commercial hub of Istanbul on January 17, just five days before the peace conference is to take place near Geneva, they said.

"The debates were very heated among the different groups that make up the coalition. It was not possible to take a decision," a source close to the opposition said.

The Syrian National Council, the main component of the coalition, had said on Friday it would boycott the conference slated to start in Montreaux on January 22.

The SNC has long said it will not negotiate until President Bashar al-Assad's regime is toppled.

During its last general assembly in November, the coalition said after heated debate that it was ready to take part in the peace conference along with delegates from Assad's regime.

In a statement at the time, the National Coalition, under pressure from Arab and western allies, said it would take part in the peace talks "on the basis of the full transfer of power." It also stipulated "that Bashar al-Assad and those with the blood of Syrians on their hands have no role in the transitional phase and Syria's future." However the Syrian government, while expressing willingness to attend the proposed Geneva conference, insists that Assad's departure from power is not up for discussion.

The conference in Montreux is designed to find a political solution to end the civil war in Syria, which has claimed more than 130,000 lives and displaced millions of people since March 2011.

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