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Syrian opposition agrees to form unified coalition

Published time: November 11, 2012 11:36
Edited time: November 12, 2012 03:48
Leading Syrian opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh (R) arrives at the meeting of the General Assembly of the Syrian National Council, in Doha November 8, 2012. (Reutres / Mohamad Dabbouss)

Leading Syrian opposition figure Haitham al-Maleh (R) arrives at the meeting of the General Assembly of the Syrian National Council, in Doha November 8, 2012. (Reutres / Mohamad Dabbouss)

Syrian opposition groups have agreed to create a new leadership body united against President Bashar al-Assad. The announcement comes after days of talks in Doha sponsored by foreign governments pushing for regime change in the embattled nation.

­"An initial deal has been signed. The evening session will be for electing the president of the body and his deputy," Muslim Brotherhood delegate Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni told reporters following the talks.

The umbrella organization, dubbed the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, will be made up of rebel groups both inside and outside Syria. The leadership body's goal is the removal of President Assad and the establishment of a transitional government.

A leading cleric from Damascus who fled to Egypt has been elected to lead the new body. Moaz Khatib, a Sunni and a former imam of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, is now charged with uniting all the various rebel factions.

Dissident Riad Seif, who led the initiative to unite the opposition, and human rights activist Suhair Atassi were elected as vice presidents.

The Syrian opposition hopes that the formation of a unified body will attract donations from the Arab League and the West, who have pushed for greater cohesion amongst the Syrian rebel groups.

However, Franklyn Lamb, a Beirut-based investigative journalist, told RT that the agreement patched together in Qatar is weak at best.

“The reason that we have this almost tissue paper agreement was all the pressure that was put on them; they had to do something this weekend. Do you think the West is going to turn up in Qatar and arrange a show with no result? No.”

He added that many of the groups and militias that the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) supports have now lost the respect of the Syrian people.

“Through a lot of crimes they’ve committed, a lot of assassinations and massacres and destruction of cultural and heritage UNSECO sites. So this is a last ditch attempt to put together a viable opposition – and only time will tell if it’s going to stick together,” he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leveled criticism at the SNC last week. She said it did not reflect the needs and aims of soldiers fighting on the ground in Syria, and as such “could no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition.

”The SNC condemned the comment, saying any attempt to replace it would undermine the Syrian revolution by “sowing the seeds of division.”

But the council did elect a new leader, hoping to retain the leadership post among the opposition groups by replacing Abdelbaset Sieda with Christian oppositionist George Sabra.

The newly-elected leader of Syria's main opposition group slammed the international community for what he called inaction, saying Saturday that fighters were in desperate need of weapons to break the stalemate with Assad's forces.

At the talks, Sabra claimed that the SNC agreed that unity was vital but hinted that his group would not accept a deal that could bring its collapse.

At the start of the negotiations, Sabra criticized the Seif-led proposal. "The problem is with the initiative itself," he said of Seif's plan, arguing that it was too vague.

Until Doha, the SNC has been reluctant to cooperate with other groups, fearing it would lose influence.
But on Sunday, Sabra yielded to international pressure by signing an agreement with Khatib, ultimately relinquishing his authority to the new body.

On Sunday, the Syrian government reiterated its call for dialogue to resolve the ongoing conflict in the country. “The only way to succeed in Syria is to sit down at the table to launch a national dialogue,” Information Minister Omran A Zohbi said.

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