Iran hosts Syrian peace conference

Washington Post, By Jason Rezaian, November 18

Tehran— Under the motto “No to violence, yes to democracy,” an estimated 200 Syrian and regional politicians gathered in Tehran on Sunday to discuss a possible end to the violence that has engulfed Syria since March 2011.

“We believe reforms in Syria should lead to a free, fair and transparent election with the cooperation of all political parties,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in opening remarks at the one-day Syria National Dialogue conference.

Iran continues to back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime despite the bloodshed, which has killed more than 40,000 people since the fighting began, making Western and many Arab governments doubt the Islamic Republic’s sincerity in trying to end the violence. But the presence of delegations from dozens of countries, including representatives of Russia and China, two key Syrian allies, show that Iran still holds some sway in this debate.

Despite the criticisms, leaders in Tehran have long contended that they support a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict and can play a positive role in engineering a lasting cease-fire there.

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  • Syrian Islamist groups reject opposition coalition

    AP, By Barbara Surk

    BEIRUT (AP) — A group of extremist Islamist factions in Syria has rejected the country’s new opposition coalition, saying in a video statement they have formed an “Islamic state” in the embattled city of Aleppo to underline that they want nothing to do with the Western-backed bloc.

    The video appears to be a reaction to the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, formed Nov. 11 in Qatar to unify groups trying to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. The coalition is led by a popular Muslim cleric and is seen as a way to counter the growing influence of Islamic extremists in the 20-month old rebellion that has claimed more than 36,000 lives.

    The statement by 13 radical factions that was posted on a militant website late Sunday suggested the extremist elements — including the al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra — are suspicious of the new coalition. They rejected what they said was a “foreign project” and declared the northern city of Aleppo, where many radical groups have been fighting, an “Islamic state.”

    “We are the representatives of the fighting formations in Aleppo and we declare our rejection of the conspiratorial project, the so-called national alliance,” the statement said. “We have unanimously agreed to urgently establish an Islamic state and to reject any foreign project.” The authenticity of the video could not be independently confirmed, but it was released on a website that carries al-Qaida and other militant statements.

    More at the link

  • Kurds oust Syrian forces from northern towns

    Aljazeera, By Jose Miguel Caltayud, November 19

    Derik, Syria – “Assad is gone! I am very happy. Until now, we didn’t even have ID cards,” says Abdi Karim, 56, with a tired but big smile.

    Karim is a fighter in the People’s Defence Units (YPG, in Kurdish) in Derik, in what he considers Syria’s Kurdistan in the northeast of the country, near the borders with Turkey and Iraq.

    The YPG is an armed militia that has been publicly active in this region for at least the last four months. Recently, the YPG and residents of Derik (known as al Malkia in Arabic) forced the last of the regime’s troops and police to leave the town.

    “We have the rifles to protect the people here, just to protect,” Karim said pointing at his old AK-47 and talking in the building, where president Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence services once had their base in Derik.

    More at the link

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