Syria Peace Hopes Dim Further as Opposition Rejects Moscow Talks

Syria Peace Hopes Dim Further as Opposition Rejects Moscow Talks

As the world focused last week on the attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris, hopes were fading for the latest effort to wind down the war in Syria, a conflict seen as driving radicalization among Muslims worldwide.

For months, Russia has been working to persuade government and opposition figures to attend preliminary talks in Moscow on Jan. 26 that are aimed at starting a new peace process. But in recent days, several leading opposition figures, apparently doubting Russia’s credibility as a mediator, said they would not attend, undermining the initiative.

Chief among them was Moaz al-Khatib, a cleric from Damascus who is one of the few exiled figures who retains credibility among opposition fighters inside Syria, and who had earlier urged colleagues to take the talks seriously. But he declared on his Facebook page that he would not attend, saying, “We don’t have the conditions for the success of this meeting.”

The only other international proposal on the table — a freeze in fighting in the contested city of Aleppo proposed by the United Nations envoy, Staffan de Mistura — has yet to gain momentum, though officials continue to meet with the dozens of players who would need to agree even to that modest, incremental plan.

As Syria increasingly becomes the world’s problem, all sides in the conflict have reason to re-evaluate their positions. Falling oil prices are putting stress on Russia and Iran, the main backers of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. Another Assad ally, the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, faces the prospect of a large population of Sunni refugees from Syria becoming permanent, altering the country’s sectarian balance of power.

On the other side, the United States, though it has long called for Mr. Assad’s ouster, increasingly appears to see checking the growth of the Islamic State extremist group as a higher priority. Turkey, a major backer of the revolt against Mr. Assad, faces a growing burden from a refugee crisis that will only deepen as the conflict goes on.

Inside the country, relatively moderate Syrian insurgents are losing ground to extremist groups like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in the northern regions that were long their center of gravity. The government is depleting its manpower and increasingly relying on foreign Shiite militias and irregular forces.

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