November 20, 2015 / 1:30 PM / 2 years ago

Syrian opposition say working towards Saudi meet, but no date set

A boy walks near damaged ground at a site hit by what residents said were airstrikes carried out by the Russian air force in the town of Darat Izza, province of Aleppo, Syria October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian opposition figures said on Friday efforts were under way to hold a conference in Saudi Arabia aimed at unifying President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents, but that no date had yet been set, after a report it would take place mid-December.

Saudi-owned television station Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath said on Thursday Riyadh would host the conference, which would come after an international agreement to launch talks between Syria’s government and opposition by Jan. 1.

“There are efforts towards a meeting in Riyadh between most parts of the opposition. We will participate and we will support the conference,” said Badr Jammous, a member of Syria’s political opposition in exile.

“No date has been set yet. There are meetings and consultations,” he told Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he expected a conference within two weeks or sooner to bring together the various factions of the Syrian opposition.

Divisions in Syrian opposition ranks is often cited as one of many obstacles facing diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

The opposition includes the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, a political body, and a wide array of rebel groups that are not united in a single military structure and do not answer to any of the political factions.

Hadi al-Bahra, former president of the Syrian National Coalition, said they had received “no official invitation” but that the participation of “moderate” armed groups fighting on the ground would be sought.

Representatives of three foreign-backed Free Syrian Army groups said they had no knowledge of the Saudi meeting.

Saudi Arabia has been a major backer of the insurgency against Assad, who it says must leave power.

Gulf states announced in May that Saudi Arabia would host a meeting of Syrian opposition groups, but the meeting did not take place.

“Now it is going ahead and this is a good sign. The idea is to have a more concerted push and to have a mandated opposition. They need to form one front but this is going to be difficult,” a Western diplomat tracking Syria said.

International talks were held in Vienna last week in which Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - laid out a plan including formal talks between the government and opposition by Jan. 1.

Reporting by John Davison, Sylvia Westall and Dasha Afanasieva in Ankara; Editing by Tom Perry

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