Syrian opposition groups make new bid to unite against President Bashar al-Assad

A portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hangs outside the covered Hamidiyah bazaar in the old city of Syria's capital Damascus. PHOTO: AFP

DOHA (AFP) - Syrian opposition forces on Saturday (Feb 5) made a new bid to revive their decade-old campaign against President Bashar al-Assad at talks in Qatar, where a senior leader said they had to "correct" past mistakes.

The political groups, now mainly based abroad, have seen their influence wane in recent years as Iran and Russia steadfastly supported the Syrian president after he launched a deadly crackdown on protesters in 2011 that quickly descended into civil war.

Riad Hijab, who defected to the opposition when he was Assad's prime minister in 2012, told the opening of the two-day meeting that events in Syria were "grim".

He said the meeting had to "assess our progress and correct the errors we have made along the difficult path to achieving a unified, free, democratic state".

The opposition chief did not say what mistakes had been made, but his entourage said opposition parties had failed to communicate with ordinary Syrians and make themselves relevant to their daily battles.

Hajib said it was "imperative" for the opposition to "implement effective plans" to counter Assad's government and "to expose the false concept that Assad can abandon Iranian dominance".

A list of recommendations aiming to "unify" the opposition would be released at the end of the talks, a statement said.

Salem al-Meslet, head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, told AFP that it was important to "send a message to all Syrians, listen to their advice and make a new plan".

With international talks on Syria's future at a stalemate, Meslet said a united opposition would also send a "an important message to the UN envoy" on the conflict.

The last round of UN-organised peace talks in October failed to make any progress, and special envoy Geir Pedersen has highlighted "great mistrust on all sides".

Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, has backed Syrian rebels against Assad over the years.

But fellow Gulf state the United Arab Emirates has been among nations that have moved towards normalising ties with Assad's government, and some countries have said Syria should be allowed back into the Arab League.

Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in November that countries should avoid getting closer to the Syrian government.

Syria's war has killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.

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