Syria National Council to decide on unity leadership

Syrian dissident Riad Seif, centre, in Doha, 6 November 2012 Syrian dissident Riad Seif said progress had been made in Doha

The Syrian National Council is facing a key decision on whether to join other groups in a more unified opposition.

The proposed Syrian National Initiative aims to merge the disparate military and political groups to form a credible alternative to the Assad government.

Western and Gulf states have been pushing for such a body, which would act as a conduit for humanitarian - and possibly military - aid.

Meanwhile, the UN said 11,000 Syrians have fled in the past 24 hours.

UN officials meeting in Geneva said the increased rate of refugees reflected the deteriorating situation in Syria.

Among those fleeing, 9,000 went to Turkey, bringing the total number of Syrians there to 120,000.

Turkish news agency Anatolia said dozens of defecting Syrian army officers, including two generals and 11 colonels, had arrived in Turkey on Friday.

Aid officials at the Geneva meeting warned that 2.5 million Syrians now need humanitarian aid.

The Damascus government has strictly limited the presence of foreign aid agencies.


Although the devil may prove to be in the detail, the mood among many SNC members seems to be one of grudging admission that they have to go along with the strongly Western-backed initiative aimed at producing a unified new opposition leadership in which the SNC itself would not enjoy a majority role.

If the SNC withholds approval, the whole package on offer - recognition, huge funds, possibly much-needed quality arms supplies - would be withdrawn and the opposition left more divided than ever.

One possibility is that the SNC may go back with a qualified Yes, but seek assurances for its own continuing role as a distinct entity and guarantees that Western promises would be kept.

Assuming the package is agreed, the next step would be the formation of a 60-person unified political leadership, in which the SNC (under the current proposal) would be given 22 out of 60 seats, with provincial councils taking another 14, and the others allocated mainly to activists from inside the country.

That would be followed in short order by a Friends of Syria meeting in Morocco, at which the new leadership would obtain formal recognition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syria people, and pledges of massive funds to administer the "liberated" areas.

Activists estimate that more than 35,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March last year.

'Failure forbidden'

The opposition meeting, in the Qatari capital Doha, is taking place under the auspices of the Arab League, with Western powers from the international Friends of Syria group also attending.

So far Syrian National Council, itself an umbrella group, has been the most prominent opposition in the uprising, but has failed to produce a united front.

It has also been criticised for the fact its members are largely based outside Syria.

The US has said it wants to set up a broader opposition group in which the SNC's influence is diluted.

The Syrian National Initiative, proposed by prominent dissident Riad Seif, would replace the council, bringing together Syria's exiled and internal opposition and channelling foreign aid.

But the BBC's Jim Muir, in Doha, says the SNC is wary of signing up as a minority element in a new leadership without guarantees that the new body will be given enough support needed to defeat the regime.

The SNC, which has been holding its own talks in Doha, will elect a new executive and president on Friday, before deciding whether to back the initiative.

If it does not, says our correspondent, it risks being heavily blamed for pursuing its own interests above those of the people.

Aims of the Syrian National Initiative

  • To unite the opposition under one leadership to "end Syrians' suffering and transition Syria to a democratic, civil, pluralistic, strong and stable state"
  • To support and communicate with internal opposition
  • To work to establish finances, support the Free Syrian Army, administer "liberated areas", plan for a political transition and secure international recognition
  • To set up a Supreme Military Council, judicial committee, transitional government and Initiative Body made up of representatives from political groups, local councils and revolutionary forces

Such a move would open a stark rift in the opposition, he adds, especially between "insiders" who are strongly represented in the new leadership plan, and those who have been in exile for years.

Mr Seif said opposition leaders had made progress on the first day of talks, and that some SNC members had indicated their acceptance of a plan to set up a new leadership group composed of 60 members.

Veteran opposition figure Haytham al-Maleh told AFP news agency: "We hope we can reach an agreement [on Friday] after the Syrian National Council has succeeded in selecting a new leadership."

Burhan Ghalioun, ex-leader of the SNC outside Syria, said the atmosphere was "positive" and that failure was "forbidden".

The meeting on aid access in Geneva comes after the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the organisation could not cope with Syria's growing needs.

There are currently "a lot of blank spots", and an unknown number of people were not getting access to the aid they needed, said Peter Maurer.

The ICRC has not been able to get to certain parts of the country, he added, giving as an example the city of Aleppo, which has been badly hit by violence in recent months.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    As in Libya, the UK-USA are spouting lies whilst providing arms to the wild gangs (still very much the minority). It is sad that, yet again, the BBC is embedded with the so called 'rebels'. These wild fundamentalist gangs have no regard for human life & have executed hundreds of prisoners. UK-USA are trying to force them all into 1 gang which is a sad indictment of western values in 21st century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Quatar is a place? I thought it was an Airline!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The revolution after short period achieved its major goal when fear of speech has GONE! ...It is true the regime was slow to reform but changes been made to emerge to a new leadership and new Syria. BUT the revolution was stolen by outside countries by arms, money and media support which eventually killed the revolution. Now most Syrians chanting for arm fall rather regime fall....

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Here's an idea:
    Assad reigned peacefully for decades.
    There was no trouble until foreigners stuck their foreign noses and foeign guns into Syrian territory (probably at western instigation).
    So why not just get the foreigners out - instead of pretending we are having a Syrian Arab Spring?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I'm sure when the "rebels" win there will be fair and free democratic elections which will go off without a hitch and all will be happy and peaceful with the country.

    Or... what is more likely is that a massive internal power struggle will arrive and this faction based fighting will continue without Assad's government.

    And best of all we will have armed them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    If they want to talk, the first thing they have to do is to recognise there is a demand for a revolution, a changement. Not call them terrorists. But of day one they started with shooting down peacefull protesters. And then came the tanks. And then came the mortar bombardments. And then came the helicopters and then the planes and what is next... ??? I hope the truth will be discovered soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Saudis and Qataris are not the model of democracy to help these exiled Syrians (oppositions). They are arming them not pushing political solution. They did the same in Afghanistan helping Taliban in the 80th, supported Saddam to fight Iran 5 yrs, Libya! NOW Syria!! Yes the regime needs major reform but stay secular but for God sake leave Syria alone and got your self reformed before,

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.


    How many more children must die so that the ones that are already dead receive justice? And then what about justice for the next lot that have died? and so on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Please, do not look with a view what the benefits for other countries will be. Please think and look at the people who has everyday been bombareded. A car bomb isn´t right.
    If the Assad Regime wants to support and protect all people in syria. Then they should have started talks or tried to have talks with the people.

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    To people saying its nothing to do with us - who do you think is paying for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have had to leave?
    I don't believe in arming these rebels and I don't have a solution but just dismissing the whole situation is not going to get anyone any where

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The Syrian government is a "regime". That's why they chose to start a war by shooting unarmed protesters in the streets. That's why they torture children to death, children like Hamza Al Khateeb. Justice is coming for Hamza and all the other children tortured and murdered by the Assad crime family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Yet more regime change discussions. Western defence contractors will be licking their lips at the prospect of selling arms to a new Syria. Well, until such time as Syria decides to use them against Israel or any other Western interests, then it'll be back to square one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    One man's terrorist is another Man's Freedom Fighter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    these so called freedom fighters in Syria are nothing of the sort, they are a collection of disgruntled extremists, terrorists and opportunists. How is using car bombs to indiscriminately kill Syrian civilians fighting for freedom. The west and various arab states have disgracefully supported these thugs whilst supressing dissent in their own back yard.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    5. Ian
    totally agree with Mark X...

    I think we all do

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    totally agree with Mark X...

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    1) A car bombing in Syria is an act of terrorism, not an attack.

    2) The Syrian government is not a regime it is elected unlike countries Dave recently visited (Saudi,ect).

    3) Syria is a secular society, with a large Christian population unlike the countries Dave recently visited.

    People are not stupid and can see that this another grab for oil that will have terrible consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Here we go again! Interfering in other peoples affairs.
    Whether its Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya the west just leaves the country in chaos trying to put a puppet western government in power. Humanitarian aid yes, but telling the Syrian people who should rule them no.
    It'll all end in tears. Bring down Assad and replace it with religious extremists (who will probably end up hating the west anyway)

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    1. Yeah, we get it. Insurgents fighting governments the US don't like are terrorists.

    I presume that insurgents fighting governments that the US supports are either the resistance or freedom fighters.


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