Syrian opposition votes to attend Geneva 2 peace talks

Posted on: 5:52 pm, January 18, 2014, by , updated on: 05:33pm, January 18, 2014

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(CNN) — The Syrian National Coalition voted Saturday to attend next week’s peace talks in Geneva.

The secret balloting among 75 representatives of Syria’s main opposition group, who have been meeting this week in a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Istanbul, resulted in 58 votes in favor and 14 opposed, with two abstentions and one who handed in an unmarked ballot, the coalition’s media office told CNN.

But the tally masked deep divisions within the opposition: another 44 members of the group refused to vote at all. And some of those doing the fighting in Syria have said that participation in the talks would be an act of treachery.

The goal of the talks — dubbed Geneva 2 in recognition of a similar effort in the Swiss city in 2012 — is to set up a transitional government that would end the violence that has wracked the country since March 2011, killing more than 100,000 people.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the goal of the meeting will be to implement the communique that was the fruit of the first such meeting.

“It is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition government body — governing body — with full executive powers established by mutual consent,” he told reporters.

The only way to end the civil war that has created a humanitarian disaster and seeded the country with extremists will be for the Syrian people’s voices to be heard, he said.

Any names put forward for leadership of Syria’s transition must, according to the terms of Geneva 1, be agreed to by the opposition and the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad, he said.

“That is the very definition of mutual consent,” he continued. “This means that any figure that is deemed unacceptable by either side, whether President or a member of the opposition, cannot be a part of the future.”

In addition, he said, it “defies logic that those whose brutality created” the current situation could lead Syria toward a better future.

The peace conference would not be the end, but the beginning of a process, he said.

Al-Assad has said he does not look at the talks as a way for him to transition out of power.

Meanwhile, state-run Syrian media reported Saturday that the first shipment of aid has reached the Yarmouk Palestinian Refugee Camp outside Damascus, where dozens of people have died of starvation and lack of medical attention since the camp was cut off by warring factions last November.

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh and Raja Razek in Beirut, and Tom Watkins and Saad Abedine in Atlanta, contributed to this report.