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approval, the whole package on offer - recognition, huge funds, possibly much-needed quality arms supplies - would be withdrawn and the opposition left more divided than ever.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 81.

    Salim - removing Gaddafi has created issues not resolved them.
    Shimmy99 democracy is not freedom, and there is no freedom with Wahbist/Salafist extremism. Where the malcontents who set Tottenham ablaze freedom fighters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

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

    Why does the government have an interest in how the Syrian opposition is organised? By taking an interest in these matters we're effectively taking sides.

    We should be considering all options regarding Syria, including allowing Assad to stay in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Having worked in Syria, been friends with Alawite, Armenian and Assyrian Christians who were able to live in a secular environment. I can understand why they don't want to be governed by Sunni Salafist extremists supported by Wahabist Saudi Arabia who want to export their sectism globally. The underprivileged will not be any better off under a new regime, and there certainly won't be any democracy

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    The SNC is made up of members who have not been inside Syria in thirty years! They think they call the shots but they disconnected with what is happening in Syria today. They're like the anti-Castro Cubans in Miami ossified without any true understanding of the current dynamics in play. It is the rebels that are putting themselves on the line, life and death, the SNC just squabbles over power.

  • Comment number 77.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I don’t know whether this discussion is infected with pro-Assad web users, or with people harking back to a world akin to the middle ages- where information travelled so slowly that massacres could happen within a land with no one outside knowing about it until years after (so intervention was impossible)- whilst at the same time mocking Arabs for being 'stuck in the medieval ages'...

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Turkey putting Jews/ Israel on trial in their kangaroo court when everyone knows the flotilla was packed with IHH terrorists trying to break a Legal blockade to save Israeli lives from the warmongering HAMAS - oh and they had NO HUMANITARIAN AID. NONE NADA ZILTCH

    Funny they ain't indicting Assad, the murdering neighbour. Funny that. Racist ? You decide

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    One group of ruthless people trying to subdue another group of ruthless people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    You know it just looks like a Civil War to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Despotic governments fighting terrorist thugs while the powerful nations jockey for position, and sadly, many innocent victims dying and suffering. The naively hopeful phrase 'the Arab Spring' has become the Arab Winter of Discontent and will remain so until the Arabs drag themselves out of the middle ages and into the 21st century. Just keep our soldiers safely at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The beeb seems happy to report in popular uprisings in Syria and other arab countries, but not in Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I am an expat Syrian who also have family and friends back home and I understand Arabic very well. Looking at the situation from far away, I just cannot see a good outcome. The two sides are so entrenched in their own reality, which seems like a parallel universe of the other side. Outsiders, like me and the SNC cannot even imagine what ordinary people are going through.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    @Knut Largeson
    0.5% of Alot is still Alot.
    Oil is not only profitable but as Dick Cheney said its an Economic Weapon.
    Syria is about Strategic Control, creating more Client States.
    The Saudis are the real terrorist. The West bankrolls terrorist and extremists all over the world then blames moderate muslim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    In 2010 most of Syria's Oil went to Italy (31%), Germany (32%), the rest to Turkey, Spain, France, Austria, and the Netherlands, less than 1% went anywhere else.
    Which of those Countries is leading the grab for Oil?
    Besides Syria accounted for about 0.5% of the Worlds production.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    One mans terrorist is another's freedom fighter we know this from bbc propaganda

    What if Assad was to pay terrorists to hide amongst the occupy protesters and then shoot police? What if he paid "freedom fighters" to start anarchy using car bombs and using POW as suicide bombers.

    Sounds like what we are doing in syria

    When does a dictator become a autocrat ? when Dave is selling weapons

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Qatar itself is yet to hold a full and fair democratic election, but money talks. Britain isn't primarily concerned with alleviating suffering in Syria, but with currying favour with semi- or fully despotic Gulf sheikhdoms like this one, in order to keep their domestic arms industries afloat. The Syrian crisis demands a political solution that does not exclude the regime in negotiations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    BBC get reporting about real issues or defend the Cameron regime Assad 2.5 million Syrians now need humanitarian aid and how man need it in England?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Another peaceful secular country will turn into Sulfi state and then where 'paid jihadi' will go ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    The least from Assad, is a general amnesty to all rebels with UN/Iran/Russia's guarantee. US & UK won't risk another war-front for their soldiers to die. Hence despite his firmness Assad is in a position to carry the day if he lures the rebels to surrender in return for a general amnesty or else Cameron, Obama and Putin will be blamed.Consider Christians there, & a temporary ceasefire, at least,

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The Allies took out the likes of Saddam Hussain, Gaddafi, why can they not take out Asad? is it because there's nothing in there for them?


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