Malih was more direct in criticizing the proposed conference, which would include representatives of the opposition and the Assad government. "It is crazy," he said. "We cannot change from fighting now with weapons to apply for peaceful negotiation until we became more powerful than the regime. Before that, nothing will happen."
The coalition, to which the United States has pledged $60 million, is expected to select new leaders and name an interim government. Although there were signs this past week that Ghassan Hitto, the coalition’s interim prime minister, was about to be ousted, Saleh said Hitto would have more than one chance to survive a confidence vote among the participants.
The coalition plans to expand its membership by bringing in sectors of Syrian society that aren’t well represented now, including the Kurdish population and women. But it will have to sift through some 250 suggestions for new members and pare them to 31, Saleh said.
What seemed to be missing from the meeting here was a sense of urgency about the precarious situation that anti-Assad rebels find themselves in on the ground, where government forces have been scoring victories for the past several weeks, particularly in the area surrounding the town of Qusayr, near the border with Lebanon.
There, as many as 20,000 civilians are holed up in the town as government troops, backed by pro-Assad militia and fighters from Lebanon’s Assad-allied Hezbollah movement, maneuver to recapture it. Saleh didn’t mention the siege of the town until he was asked by a Syrian “citizen-journalist” who’d recently left Damascus.
Saleh said the first thing the delegates did was discuss Qusayr. “They have set up committees to talk with people there and to monitor the situation, not only about Qusayr but also about all the massacres taking place in Syria. They’re trying to gather information from eyewitnesses to give to the international community,” he said.