Koenders: ‘Moderate opposition is only alternative to Assad and extremists’

‘A lasting solution in Syria requires strengthening the moderate opposition. They are the only credible alternative we have to Assad and extremism.’ Foreign minister Bert Koenders made these comments in Istanbul, where he had talks with representatives of the National Syrian Coalition. The minister promised in his meeting with Coalition President Hadi Al Bahra to continue Dutch support to the moderate opposition alliance.

‘The people I spoke with today are all working, each in their own way, to make a political solution possible,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘There is nothing they would rather do than return to Syria to live free and full lives. These are courageous people who want to make a difference, and can make a difference. They deserve our support.’

A political solution is indispensable to restoring stability and empowering effective regional opposition to ISIS, the minister said. ‘It is vital for the different opposition groups to put their differences aside and form a united front. We are taking several initiatives to make this possible.’

Mr Koenders believes that persistent pressure will be important in bringing the regime to the negotiating table. A successful political transition will only be possible if the Syrians themselves have more say about the future, he said. ‘And by Syrians I mean the whole population, regardless of sectarian divides.’

With regard to President Bashar al-Assad the minister said, ‘There is no longer any place for him in Syria’s future. Assad is responsible for serious international crimes. Without him there would never have been a conflict, and it certainly would never have got so out of hand. As for the post-Assad transition, it’s up to the Syrian people to decide what that will look like.’

Mr Koenders was briefed by representatives of moderate armed groups about the situation on the front lines, and exchanged ideas with them about military tactics in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. ‘I stressed that the Netherlands’ message to the coalition is that its attacks on ISIS in Syria must not have any adverse effects on the opposition,’ he said. ‘I am seriously concerned about the situation in and around Aleppo. UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura addresses these concerns with his plan to “freeze” the conflict in the city.’
The Netherlands is spending about €13 million on support for the opposition, including capacity building for local police and government, civil society, activists and free media, mainly in northern Syria. ‘Cities like Aleppo, Idlib and Homs are home to activists and local officials who can potentially offer Syria a peaceful future,’ the minister said. ‘We are making very practical contributions to help these and other Syrians return to normal life.’ To this end the Netherlands is supporting projects like May Day Rescue’s civil defence collective White Helmets, which is saving civilians’ lives in cities like Dera’a. Since the start of the Syrian revolution the Netherlands has earmarked over €114 million for human aid to the country’s destitute people.