First Published: 2012-11-08

 

In Qatar, Syria opposition seeks to hammer out government-in-waiting

 

Ahmed Ben Helli says delegates have been urged to overcome sharp divides that have dogged their efforts to unseat Assad.

 

Middle East Online

By Acil Tabbara - DOHA

‘Failure is forbidden’

Syrians from a wide spectrum of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad began meeting in Doha Thursday to hammer out a government-in-waiting world powers will accept as credible and representative.

Ahmed Ben Helli, deputy head of the Arab League which with Qatar is brokering the meeting, told reporters that delegates had been urged to overcome the sharp divides that have dogged their efforts to unseat Assad.

"The opposition is urged to agree on a leading body which would have credibility among the Syrian people and the international community," Ben Helli said.

His comments were echoed by Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani who, on opening the meeting, called on Assad's opponents to "unify their ranks and positions and to prioritise the interests of their nation and people over their own personal interests."

Burhan Ghalioun, former leader of the main exiled opposition group, the Syria National Council (SNC), told reporters the meeting could last two or three days.

"The atmosphere is positive. Everyone wants (the meeting) to succeed, failure is forbidden," he said.

Washington wants the opposition to reshape into a widely representative government-in-exile, while opposition leaders say such a body could be sited outside the country or in zones of Syria now under the control of armed rebels.

Representatives from a number of countries, including the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, are attending the meeting alongside Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani.

Turkey, which has repeatedly called on Assad to step aside, is represented by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu while leading dissident, former premier Riad Hijab who defected in August, is also attending.

"We will discuss a structure that would unify the Syrian opposition," Hijab told reporters. "We are optimistic."

Also among delegates is Rima Flayhan, representing the Local Coordination Committees, made up of youth groups inside the country which have been at the vanguard of the uprising, as well as veteran opposition figure Haytham al-Maleh.

Long-time regime opponent who advocates peaceful change in Syria, Michel Kilo, however was not present but in a statement announced his support for the initiative.

The meeting began soon after the SNC announced it had during the night elected a new leadership, after being criticised for not being representative enough.

Some 400 SNC members had voted in a new Islamist-dominated 41-member general secretariat, which will now be tasked with electing 11 members to appoint a successor to its outgoing president Abdel Basset Sayda.

The process has been delayed until Friday to allow four members representing women and minorities to be added to the secretariat ahead of the vote, the officials said.

Before travelling to Doha on Wednesday, Arabi said that preparations must start for a transitional government to be ready when "there are changes on the ground" in Syria.

But in an indication it is reluctant to relinquish the cloak of leadership, the SNC has insisted that the "only body that can form a transitional government is a general national congress bringing together all political opposition forces, in which the SNC would hold the biggest share."

The SNC position appears to challenge an initiative proposed by prominent dissident Riad Seif, and reportedly backed by the United States, to unify the opposition.

Seif has reportedly proposed that the SNC be given only 15 of 50 seats in the new group, to make room for activists from inside Syria.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called the SNC unrepresentative of opposition forces on the ground and said it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."

The SNC -- which was set up six months after the uprising against the Assad regime erupted in March last year -- has in return accused Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 37,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, first as a protest movement and then an armed rebellion after the regime cracked down on demonstrations.

 

War-torn Syria gears towards 'cessation of hostilities'

Italian PM warns Egypt friendship on the line

Yemen loyalist forces advance towards Sanaa

S.Sudan president names arch-rival his deputy

Berlin film fest competition kicks off with Arab film

Israel denies dropping controversial Brazil envoy pick

Tunisia prepares for possible intervention in Libya

UAE to deploy jets, commandos in anti-IS campaign

100,000 refugees in Syria border camps near Turkey

Greece given three-month ultimatum to remedy border ‘deficiencies’

Ankara hails world powers' Syria ceasefire plan

Five Yemen police killed in ‘Qaeda’ attack in Aden

Kuwait to finalise Eurofighter jet deal with Italy

Iraqi PM urges Kurdistan to drop any plans for independence

Russia accuses US planes of hitting Aleppo

Anti-ISIS coalition looks to decisive new phase

Turkey, Israel open new normalisation talks

Assault on Aleppo displaces tens of thousands

Moroccan King inaugurates Aquaculture Farm in Oued Ed-dahab

Turkish forces end operation in southern town

NATO launches unprecedented Aegean migrant naval mission

Erdogan threatens to send millions of refugees to EU

Suspected PKK militants attack two Turkey pro-govt newspapers

Train derails in Egypt’s Bani Sueif province

Iranians mark 37 years since Islamic revolution

Moscow ready to discuss modalities of ceasefire in Syria

Egypt hires UK firm to review Sharm security

Tunisia makes $500 million from assets of ousted president

Turkey dismisses pressure to open borders as 'hypocritical'

Efforts to form Libya unity government stumble over defence portfolio

Iran blames failure of Syria peace talks on participation of ‘terrorists’

Syria opposition hopes for end of sieges

UAE names women state ministers in major government shake-up

French Foreign Minister steps down with criticism of US role in Syria

Germany hopes Syria talks in Munich will agree to provide aid

Syrian Kurdish separatists open Moscow representation

Jordan rejects France extradition request for 1982 terror attack suspects

Libya parliament extends deadline for formation of new unity government

Herzog wants Israel to begin separation from Palestinian areas

Khomeini grandson loses appeal against exclusion from Iran elections

Turkey, US split deepens over support for Syria Kurds

EU tells members to accelerate refugee relocation

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince in India: String of trade, security deals expected

Syria regime's Aleppo offensive kills more than 500

Ex-Israeli PM’s prison sentence extended