Syria's foreign minister said Wednesday that Bashar al-Assad's government will send representatives to a proposed peace conference in Geneva without preconditions, Reuters reports. But the diverse Syrian rebel coalition remains mired in in-fighting and it's unclear if rebels will participate.
Al Arabiya reports that a seven-day meeting of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces in Istanbul, Turkey, resulted in the rebel coalition agreeing Wednesday to attend the conference, which could be held as early as June, but only if a deadline is set for Assad's exit beforehand.
"The participation of the Syrians in any conference is tied to the presentation of a deadline for a solution and giving the necessary binding international guarantees," said the rebel coalition's statement, according to Al Arabiya. "The Syrian Coalition welcomes the international efforts to find a political solution to what Syria has been suffering for two years while being committed to the principles of the revolution."
The statement was not immediately posted to the coalition's website.
A U.N. official suggested to The Guardian that talks could flop without "credible negotiating partners."
During the week-long meeting the coalition's membership was widened from 63 members to 71, to accommodate more liberal and Christian members. The eight-member increase infuriated some diplomats worried about the dominance of Islamist groups, including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, within the coalition. A 22-member increase was originally proposed.
"You don't deserve the efforts that we made," French envoy to Syria Eric Chevallier said after the vote, the Wall Street Journal reports. "There is a problem and I am not taking sides. I am telling you there is a problem when the leaders agree on 22 and we end up with eight."
Some rebels operating within Syria appear poised to challenge the current coalition that diplomatically represents Assad opponents.
A statement issued by four rebels groups jointly referring to themselves as the Revolutionary Movement in Syria demanded 50 percent of opposition coalition members be Syria-based rebels. The demand was a "final warning" to the coalition, it said.
"[T]here is no doubt that the [Syrian Coalition's] leadership has failed to fulfill its responsibility to represent the great Syrian people's revolution at the organizational, political, and humanitarian levels," said the statement. "Any new [coalition] members must represent our revolutionaries politically, and empower them by participating fully in the [Syrian Coalition's] decision-making process. Our political representation should occupy no fewer than 50 [percent] of the seats in the SC and its leadership bureaus."
The statement continued: "The revolutionary forces that have signed this statement will no longer bestow legitimacy upon any political body that subverts the revolution or fails to take into account the sacrifices of the Syrian people or adequately represent them."
Earlier in the week the opposition coalition, which does not include the most extreme Muslim rebels, such as the al-Qaida-affiliated Al-Nusrah Front, praised the European Union's decision to lift a ban on weapon sales to Syrian groups.
But it's not immediately clear that major European countries will supply Syrian rebels with weapons. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would "under no circumstances" send weapons to rebels, according to Al Jazeera. Russia, however, has maintained its plans to arm the Assad government with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the missiles would dissuade "some hotheads" from intervening in Syria, the BBC reports.
Israel's defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, hinted his country might destroy the missiles if they're delivered to Assad's government.
"I hope it won't be sent, but if it is, God forbid, we will know what to do," Ya'alon said, the Jerusalem Post reports. "The Syrian regime relates to us differently than they relate to the rebels. They are frightened of us. We will be prepared for any development, but we don't estimate that they will attempt to challenge us."