Chief of mainstream Syria opposition group resigns

<p>Chief of mainstream Syria opposition group resigns</p>

Chief of mainstream Syria opposition group resigns

Chief of mainstream Syria opposition group resigns

Beirut (AFP) - The head of Syria's umbrella opposition movement announced his resignation Monday, two days before a key conference aimed at forming a new delegation to upcoming peace talks in Geneva.

In a statement on Twitter, Riad Hijab said he was stepping down after nearly two years serving as the head of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee.

"I find myself today forced to announce my resignation from the High Negotiations Committee, wishing them further achievements, and wishing for my beloved country Syria peace, security, and stability," he wrote in Arabic.

Hijab was serving as Syria's prime minister when he defected in 2012, and took charge of the opposition HNC when it was formed in December 2015 in Saudi Arabia.

He did not provide specific reasons for his resignation but said he had faced "attempts to lower the ceiling of the revolution and prolong the regime of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad."

Immediately after Hijab's resignation, several other HNC officials including Suheir Atassi and Riad Naassan Agha also announced they were withdrawing from the body.

The resignations come just two days before opposition figures are to gather in Riyadh, at the invitation of the Saudi foreign ministry, to prepare for UN-led peace talks later this month.

Opposition figures and analysts suspected that hardline regime opponents like Hijab would be sidelined in that summit.

"With his resignation, Hijab preempted the Riyadh conference on Wednesday, which was planning to form a (new) HNC, elect a new head coordinator, and form a delegation to Geneva talks," a senior opposition official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Riyadh summit will aim to unite representatives of the HNC, the Istanbul-based National Coalition prominent opposition grouping, independent opposition figures, and members of two groups known as the Cairo and Moscow platforms and seen as more favourable to the regime.

The United Nations' special envoy to the Syrian crisis, Staffan de Mistura, has intensified his calls in recent months to unite the various bodies into a single opposition group.

Syrian government officials had long complained they wanted to deal with one, unified delegation at peace talks.

But a senior HNC official told AFP on Monday that "uniting opposition groups will be a difficult task in light of differences in opinion, particularly on Assad's fate."

Since the uprising against Assad erupted in 2011, Syria's political and armed opposition has suffered internal fragmentation.

More than 330,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out.