Syria’s opposition says President Bashar al-Assad must leave power, dead or alive, if looming peace talks to end five years of civil war are to succeed.
UN-brokered talks are set to begin in Geneva on Monday, in the latest international push to end a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and forced half the country from their homes.
“We believe that the transitional period should start with the fall, or death, of Bashar al-Assad,” chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush said.
“It cannot start with the presence of the regime, or the head of this regime still in power.”
The United Nations is pushing for a transitional government and a new constitution to be put in place in six months.
Legislative and presidential elections would be held next year.
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) opposition group has insisted the transitional government be given full executive powers, but the regime dismissed the idea outright ahead of the talks.
“We will not talk with anyone who wants to discuss the presidency … Bashar al-Assad is a red line,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told a Damascus news conference on Saturday.
“If [the HNC] continue with this approach, there’s no reason for them to come to Geneva.”
His fate has been one of the main stumbling blocks in previous rounds of tentative talks, with key ally Russia rejecting any suggestion he should go, while opposition-backer the US has called for him to step down.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Saturday: “I would emphasise that people see the future of Syria without Bashar al-Assad.”
But Mr Muallem said other nations did not have the right to discuss presidential elections, saying: “This right is exclusively for the Syrian people.”
Fighting has eased since a landmark ceasefire between Syria’s regime and rebels, bar some terrorist groups, took effect two weeks ago.
But Mr Alloush accused the regime and its ally Russia of not abiding by the truce, which it said had been violated hundreds of times since it began on February 27.
“There have been more than 350 violations during the 14 days and that shows the regime violated the truce, or didn’t commit to it,” he said.
Both sides of the conflict have accused the other for the ceasefire violations.
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