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No to peace plan

Syrian opposition talks.

Syrian opposition talks.

ISTANBUL — Syria’s divided opposition leaders have failed to back a plan by their outgoing leader for President Bashar al-Assad to cede power gradually to end the country’s civil war, highlighting the obstacles to international peace talks expected next month.

The 16-point plan proposed by Moaz Alkhatib, who resigned as head of the Western-backed opposition National Coalition in March, urges Assad to hand power to his deputy or prime minister and then go abroad with 500 members of his entourage.

Alkhatib’s proposal appeared to win little support from other Syrian opposition figures at a three-day meeting in Istanbul to decide how to respond to a US-Russian proposal to convene peace talks involving Assad’s government next month.

The coalition is under international pressure to resolve internal divisions ahead of a conference Washington and Moscow see as crucial to hopes of ending two years of civil war which has allowed al-Qaeda linked militants a growing role in Syria.

Looming large over the Istanbul meeting, which began yesterday, is the shadow of Saudi Arabia, the main Arab backer of the opposition, which according to coalition sources is pushing to have the transfer of power in Syria top the agenda in Geneva.

“Saudi Arabia is not happy that Geneva does not look like it will lead with the exit of Assad on day one,” a senior coalition source said.

Opposition leaders said the coalition was likely to attend the planned peace conference, which could take part in Geneva in the coming weeks, but doubted it would produce any immediate deal on Assad’s departure.

Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said the 60-member body supports “any conference that helps transition the situation into an elective government away from the dictatorship” but would not go without indications Assad is on his way out.

Assad, who has defied Western and Arab calls for him to go, has not confirmed his government would attend the peace talks, although Russia said today his administration had agreed in principle to attend. (Reuters)

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