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Syria opposition gets U.N. meeting, rebel chief won't attend

A man points towards a burning car, caused by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the
A man points towards a burning car, caused by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council will hold an informal meeting with members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition this week, Britain's U.N. envoy said on Tuesday, but the chief rebel commander will not attend due to the situation inside Syria.

The meeting will take place on Friday and include political and military representatives of the Syrian opposition, British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said in a statement. Saudi-backed tribal leader Ahmed al-Jarba, the new president of the coalition, will lead the delegation, he said.

Lyall Grant said the informal nature of the meeting would "provide a forum for members of the council to have a frank and informal exchange with the National Coalition, to discuss key issues relating to the Syrian conflict."

A spokesman for Moscow's U.N. mission confirmed that Russia would join the other 14 Security Council members at the Syria meeting on Friday. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main ally and arms supplier and has vetoed three Western- and Arab-backed council resolutions condemning Assad's government.

Lyall Grant said key issues to discuss included "ending the violence and preparing for the Geneva II conference, as well as addressing the issues of humanitarian access, human rights, refugees and protection of civilians."

So far, attempts to organize a "Geneva II" peace conference on Syria to revive a political transition plan agreed in June 2012 in the Swiss city have come to naught. U.N. diplomats say it is looking increasingly unlikely that such a conference will take place anytime soon, if at all.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told a U.N. Security Council debate on the Middle East on Tuesday that the Syrian government was willing to talk with opposition groups.

"A significant number however of the Syrian opponents, including the Syrian National Coalition, are not yet ready, unfortunately, to participate in the conference," he said.

WITHOUT IDRISS

General Salim Idriss, who leads the rebel Supreme Military Council, told Reuters in Paris that he will not attend Friday's meeting with the Security Council. The coalition's representatives in the United States provided more detail.

"Despite wanting to join the delegation to the United Nations, conditions in Syria require Gen. Idriss to stay in theater, so he will not be joining the delegation to New York," Mariam Jalabi of the Syrian National Coalition told Reuters.

Among those who will attend will be Najib Ghadbian, the Syrian National Coalition's chief representative in the United States, the British U.N. mission said.

U.N. diplomats say the opposition representatives may choose to hold meetings on the sidelines of Friday's session to lobby for weapons supplies.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be in New York on Thursday and Friday to attend a special Security Council session on Africa's Great Lakes region, but the U.S. mission to the United Nations said there was no current plan for him to meet with the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad for over two years are frustrated that U.S. plans to send weapons to them have been delayed. The United Nations says as many as 100,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have been supplying the Syrian rebels with arms, security sources and diplomats say.

U.N. Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that Syria was "increasingly turning into a regional, if not a global, battleground."

"Reports of military victories by the government should not create false confidence that the conflict can be won militarily," he said. "The legitimate demands of the people in Syria cannot be met with arms, but only through vision and leadership by all Syrians, the government and opposition alike."

Serry also said that the United Nations had received 13 reports of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. The head of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team, Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, and U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane are due to travel to Damascus this week to discuss the inquiry.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and by John Irish in Paris; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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