October 3, 2015 / 11:30 AM / 3 years ago

Syrian opposition, rebel groups united against U.N. Syria 'working groups' plan

ANKARA/GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. plan towards ending the civil war in Syria would not work in its current form, Syria’s western-backed opposition and rebel groups said in a rare show of unity on Saturday, a day after the government said it was ready to take part in the initiative.

Residents inspect damage from what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the town of Douma, eastern Ghouta in Damascus October 2, 2015. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh

In July, U.N. special envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura unveiled the idea of inviting warring parties to form four U.N.-led working groups on how to implement a roadmap to peace, since the groups were not ready to hold formal peace talks.

In a rare instance of the coalition’s political and military components finding agreement, the statement was signed by the political offices of powerful Islamist factions such as Ahrar Al Sham and those backed by the United States, such as Division 101.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Friday that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was ready to participate in de Mistura’s initiative, although he said any outcome would be non-binding.

“We consider that the “work groups” initiative in its current form and its unclear mechanisms provides the perfect environment to reproduce the regime,” the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces said in a statement.

It said the plan ignored “the majority” of the relevant U.N. resolutions on Syria, including those on ridding the country of its chemical weapons and allowing unfettered humanitarian access.

The statement was issued after the coalition held meetings in Istanbul this week to discuss de Mistura’s plans.

This week Moscow launched its first air strikes on Syria amid claims that rebel groups backed by governments opposing Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad rather than Islamic State militants were being targeted.

A source involved in Syrian negotiations said the opposition had condemned Moscow launching its first air strikes on Syria.

An announcement that the groups would meet in mid-October was likely to be put off, the source said, on condition of anonymity.

The statement from the opposition groups reiterated that Assad and the “pillars of his regime” have no place in a future Syria or a transitional government.

De Mistura has said the working groups could be a step toward a “Syrian-owned framework document” that would provide for a transitional governing body, procedures for national dialogue, a constitution drafting process and transitional justice issues.

Reporting by Dasha Afanasieva and Tom Miles; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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