Syrian opposition holds unity talks in Spain

Supporters of the Syrian opposition kicked off two days of talks in Spain on Thursday to try to narrow their differences ahead of a planned peace conference, the Spanish government said.

Syrian opposition holds unity talks in Spain
Branches of the divided Syrian opposition, including former leader of the National Coalition Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, held talks in Madrid back in May. Photo: Karim Sabih/AFP

The talks in the southern city of Cordoba brought together "relevant voices of the opposition" against the civil war-torn country's President Bashar al-Assad, the Spanish foreign ministry said.

It expected "between 120 and 150 members of political parties and civil society groups, as well as religious and social leaders" to attend, it added in a statement, without specifying exactly who was at the talks.

A UN-chaired peace conference known as "Geneva 2" is scheduled in the Swiss town of Montreux for January 22, but there is strong resistance within the anti-Assad rebel movement to attending.

The Spanish statement called the meeting in Cordoba, an old Islamic city, "a new opportunity to facilitate dialogue and reduce the fragmentation of the Syrian opposition in the Geneva 2 process".


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Spain probes Syrian intelligence chief over alleged torture

A Spanish judge on Monday ordered an investigation into the alleged torture and execution of a Syrian man after a case was filed by his sister, a Spaniard of Syrian origin.

Spain probes Syrian intelligence chief over alleged torture
Lebanese students opposed to the Syrian regime hold up portraits of Syria's feared security chief Ali Mamluk (r) at a 2012 protest in Beirut. Photo: AFP

Amal Hag-Hamdo Anfalis brought the case on January 31, saying her brother Abdul Hamdo, a 42-year-old lorry driver, was illegally detained in 2013, two years after the start of the Syrian conflict, before being tortured and executed.

High court judge Eloy Velasco ruled Spain does have jurisdiction to launch the procedure against Syrian officials, nine in all, including Damascus' head of intelligence Ali Mamluk and high ranking colleagues including Abdel Fattah Qudsiyeh, Mohammad Dib Zeitun and Jamil Hassan.

Others named in the case are former Syrian vice president Faruk al-Shareh, Mohamed Said Bekheitan, a senior official with the ruling Baath party, as well as Mohamed al Haj Ali, general Jalal al Hayek and colonel Souleyman al Youssef.

Amal says a Syrian military police photographer and deserter, known as “Cesar”, smuggled out evidence of his brother's death as well as that of thousands of other regime opponents.

The charge sheet against the accused alleges Abdul Hamdo was the victim of “state terrorism.” One image of his lifeless body “shows clear signs of torture.”

The photo archive shows he died in the Syrian military intelligence's detention centre 248 in Damascus.

Judge Velasco, who has asked Amal and “Cesar” to testify from April 10th, says the alleged crimes could constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and forced disappearance.

Under Spanish law Madrid will normally only hear such a case if it involves a Spanish victim or if there is a direct material link with Spain.

Velasco found there were compelling arguments for it to be heard, given that Amal is a Spanish national who could be considered a victim.

French judicial authorities are also investigating the “Cesar” photo trove to determine if crimes against humanity were committed, while lawyers in Germany also filed a criminal complaint against the Assad regime before federal prosecutors earlier this month.