Syrian opposition, rebels not invited to Vienna talks

BEIRUT: Syria's main political opposition body and representatives of the armed opposition have not been invited to international talks on the country's war, an opposition politician and a rebel leader said.

The Syrian government in Damascus has meanwhile yet to issue any official comment on the meeting in Vienna on Friday that will bring together about a dozen countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran, which back opposing sides in the conflict.

The Syrian opposition has objected to Iran's participation in the talks - the first time it has attended such a meeting on Syria - because of its military support for President Bashar al-Assad.

George Sabra, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, told Reuters the failure to invite Syrians showed a "lack of seriousness". Asked whether the coalition had been invited to the talks, he said: "That didn't happen."

"It is a big weak point in the meeting, because it will discuss the issues of the Syrians in their absence."

Syria's western-backed political opposition, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC), later said President Bashar al Assad had to go if there was to be a political solution to the conflict.

"The SNC consider the departure of Assad a crucial condition for the success of any political settlement and that he (Assad)or those whose hands were stained in blood would have no role in any phase transitional or permanent," the Turkey-based political opposition body said in a statement.

The talks will include regional opponents Saudi Arabia and Iran.

"The Saudi regime has committed war crimes and its presence in the multilateral Vienna talks on Syria is dubious and illegitimate," Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, head of Iran's armed forces, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

Tehran and Moscow have provided crucial support to Assad's government, while his regional opponents including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey demand his departure.

Assad has stuck by his long-held position that "eliminating terrorism" must come first, after Moscow called on Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections. Assad says all the groups fighting him are terrorists.

Bashar al-Zoubi of the Yarmouk Army, a group affiliated to the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters that representatives of the armed opposition had not been invited to the Vienna meeting.

"Iran is part of the problem and not the solution, and its participation in the meeting will prove that to the world," Zoubi said. "This meeting was accepted by Saudi Arabia and Turkey to expose Iran."

The coalition's Sabra reiterated his objection to Iran's participation, saying it could not play a mediation role. "It's officers are fighting every day on Syrian fronts," he said.