Syria rebels say they're willing to negotiate peace deal, but not with Assad
Communique omits direct demand for Assad's removal, says any deal must be made under auspices of U.S. and Russia.
The Syrian National Coalition is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the war tearing apart the pivotal Arab country but President Bashar Assad cannot be a party to any settlement, according to a communique drafted for a major opposition meeting.
The communique, seen by Reuters, omitted a direct demand for Assad's removal, in a softening of tone from past positions that insisted the president must go before there could be any talks.
The document, to be debated at a meeting of the opposition alliance's leadership starting on Thursday, said Assad and his cohorts must be held accountable for bloodshed and that any peace deal must be under the auspices of the United States andRussia
Meanwhile, Hezbollah was on high alert Thursday after Syrian rebels warned that they would "eliminate it from inside the Lebanese lands" unless it stops fighting for President Bashar Assad's forces, giving the militant group a 48-hour deadline to accede to this demand.
"We [FSA] are announcing and warning that if Hezbollah will not stop shelling the Syrian lands, villages and civilians from inside the Lebanese territories within 48 hours of issuance of this statement, we will respond to the sources of fire by our hands and eliminate it from inside the Lebanese lands," the Free Syrian Armyposted on its Facebook page early Wednesday, according to a CNN translation.
The FSA issued its ultimatum after at least one Hezbollah guerrilla and five Syrian rebels were killed in fighting in Syrian territory near the Lebanese border earlier this week.
Syrian opposition sources said the fighting broke out on Saturday after Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, who are in control of eight Syrian border villages, tried to expand their sphere by moving into three adjacent Sunni villages that were in the hands of the rebel Syrian Free Army.
"The Hezbollah force moved on foot and was supported by multiple rocket launchers. The Free Syrian Army had to call in two tanks that had been captured from the Assad army to repel the attack," Hadi al-Abdallah of the Syrian Revolution General Commission told Reuters.
Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah guerrillas based in the Bekaa Valley on the other side of the border, which is not demarcated, moved into the area last year. Four of the villages they had captured are inhabited by co-religionists while the other four villages are mixed with Sunni Muslim and Shi'ite residents.
Iranian-backed Hezbollah, one of Lebanon's strongest political factions, is a main ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and says that dialogue between him and Syrian rebels will be the only way to defuse Syria's 23-month-old conflict.
Assad belongs to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated power in Syra since the 1960s. The border area near the town of Qusair, which is in the grip of the mainly Sunni rebels, is an important supply route for insurgents under siege in the central city of Homs.