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Syria's opposition denies report Saudi Arabia told them to accept Assad remaining in power

The Saudi-backed HNC has long said political transition means the departure of Assad [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 August, 2017

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Syria's main opposition has denied a report that the Saudi Arabia's foreign minister told them that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would remain in power once peace returns.

Syria's main opposition body has denied a report that Saudi Arabia's foreign minister told them that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would remain in power after a political solution to the conflict was agreed on.

Member of the High Negotiations Committee [HNC] Ahmed al-Asrawi told The New Arab on Sunday that Adel al-Jubeir did not make the remarks at talks to discuss a conference in the Saudi capital next October.

"During the meeting, the HNC discussed the arrangements for the upcoming Riyadh 2 conference and suggested that the Saudis expand the representation base to include the largest amount of Syrian opposition groups," Asrawi said.

Russia Today's Arabic service reported earlier on Sunday, citing unnamed sources in the Syrian opposition, that Jubeir had told the HNC that Assad would remain in power during a transitional phase.

The source told the Russian media outlet that the HNC was ordered to come up with a "new vision" or else Saudi Arabia would seek a political solution that excluded the opposition.

"The realities confirm that it is no longer possible to oust Assad at the beginning of the transitional period. We must discuss how long that period will be and what his powers will be," Jubier was quoted as saying.

The Saudi-backed HNC has long said political transition means the departure of Assad.

Last month, the last round of sputtering peace talks ended in Geneva with the Syrian envoy to the UN declaring that "incremental progress" was made, driving hope that face-to-face negotiations between rebels and the Damascus regime may soon be possible.

The Saudi-backed HNC has long insisted political transition means the departure of Assad.

Assad's delegation, led by Syria's UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, declared the president's fate off limits.

UN mediator Staffan de Mistura said he has not seen any indication that the regime is willing to talk about forming a new government in Syria but voiced hope that international pressure could move the needle.

In June, French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris no longer see the removal of Assad as a priority in the Syrian conflict.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings.

It triggered an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies. Millions more have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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