First Published: 2012-11-12

 

Muslim cleric elected head of Syrian opposition

 

Syria opposition groups agree to unite against Assad as US swiftly declares its support to new National Coalition.

 

Middle East Online

By Faisal Baatout - DOHA

Khatib is not linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist party

Syria's deeply divided opposition has agreed to unite against President Bashar al-Assad, electing a moderate cleric as leader in a move hailed by the West as a step towards a peaceful political transition.

After four days of marathon talks in Qatar, the Syrian National Council (SNC) on Sunday finally signed up to a wider, more representative bloc centred on a government-in-waiting, as demanded by Arab and Western states.

The breakthrough came amid Western concerns the Syrian conflict is increasingly spilling over its borders, after Israel fired a warning shot across the UN-monitored ceasefire line between Syria and the occupied Golan Heights.

Muslim cleric Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, 52, a Damascus moderate who quit Syria three months ago, was elected head of the new grouping, with prominent dissident Riad Seif and female opposition figure Suhair al-Atassi chosen as his deputies.

The United States swiftly declared its support for the new National Coalition.

"We look forward to supporting the National Coalition as it charts a course toward the end of Assad's bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future that all the people of Syria deserve," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Britain and France also hailed the Doha agreement.

The Israeli warning shot came after a mortar round from the Syrian side hit an Israeli position.

It followed comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel was "ready for any development" and as his defence minister warned a "tougher response" would follow.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon appealed Sunday to Israel and Syria to ease tensions on their disputed Golan frontier.

"The secretary general is deeply concerned by the potential for escalation," said the UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"He calls for the utmost restraint" and urges both side to uphold the 1974 accord which set up a ceasefire line and demilitarized zone which is patrolled by UN forces.

Syrian new opposition leader Khatib urged the international community to "fulfil its pledges".

"Our people are subjected to a systematic genocide," he said at the signing ceremony in Doha.

The newly-elected head of the SNC George Sabra said that Syrian rebels need weapons "not just bread and water."

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Hassem Al-Thani said he would accompany Khatib on Monday to the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo.

"We will seek a full recognition of this new body," Sheikh Hamad said.

Reservations in SNC ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition's Arab and Western supporters.

But after negotiations ran into the early hours of Sunday and resumed in the afternoon, the anti-Assad factions agreed to form a "National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition."

"We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition," said Seif, who championed the US-backed reform proposals on which the agreement was based.

In a copy of the document, the parties "agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars," and rule out any dialogue with Assad's government.

They agreed to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas.

A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government after the regime has fallen.

'Step towards toppling the regime'

Former Syrian premier Riad Hijab who defected in August hailed the agreement as "an advanced step towards toppling the regime."

The deal came after the SNC, previously seen as the main opposition group, heeded Arab and Western pressure to embrace groups that had been unwilling to join its ranks.

Khatib, the imam of the central Umayyad mosque in Damascus before he was arrested for supporting the uprising, is seen as an independent as he is not linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist party.

His deputies also hail from mixed backgrounds, with Seif reportedly backed by Washington and Atassi belonging to a Homs family active in the secular opposition. A third vice president post will remain vacant for a Kurd.

There had been mounting pressure for an overhaul amid US-led accusations that the SNC had lost touch with civilian activists and rebels inside Syria and become little more than a talking shop for exiles.

Concern had been further raised by the fears of a spillover of the conflict as fighting raged on Syria's borders with Iraq and Turkey as well as on the armistice line with the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Nationwide violence killed at least 86 people on Sunday, including 34 civilians, the Observatory said, among more than 37,000 who have lost their lives since the uprising erupted in March 2011.

 

More strikes hit E. Ghouta as UN delays truce vote

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Egypt presidential race starts with Sisi likely to win

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Blatter supports Morocco bid for 2026 World Cup

Turkey says US embassy Jerusalem opening in May 'extremely worrying'

Lebanon says both suspects in Kuwait murder of Filipina maid held

38 dead in Mogadishu car bombings

Morocco police arrests prominent newspaper publisher

Syria regime continues to pound Ghouta as world stutters

UN rights commission wants S.Sudan war crimes charges

Iran grounds airline's ATR planes after crash

Turkey summons Dutch diplomat over Armenian 'genocide' vote

Turkey navy threatens to engage Italian drillship near Cyprus

Iran police shoving headscarf protester sparks social media storm

UN Security Council to vote Friday on Syria ceasefire

Dubai says Djibouti illegally seized African port

Dutch parliament recognises 1915 Armenian massacre as genocide

Heavily bombarded Eastern Ghouta awaits UN resolution

Russia says Syria rebels rejected offer to evacuate E. Ghouta

UN diplomats press for Syria ceasefire without Russia veto

Iranian minister’s presence at UN rights meeting angers critics

Iran warns it will leave nuke deal if banks cannot do business

Qatar to plant thousands of trees to ‘beautify’ World Cup venues

Pro-Kurdish party says Turkey lying about 'no civilian deaths' in Afrin

African migrants protest Israeli detention policy

Egypt sentences 21 to death for planning attacks

Israeli handball teams in Qatar spark furious outcry from locals

UN report highlights S.Sudan journalist treatment

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies ‘groundless’ accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers