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approval, the whole package on offer - recognition, huge funds, possibly much-needed quality arms supplies - would be withdrawn and the opposition left more divided than ever.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 121.

    George Sabra is now portrayed as a Christian, however he is a communist. This is like inviting the head of Shining Path or any other communist insurgents to lead an alleged democratic alliance. This communist organisation only allegedly embraced Social democracy in 2005.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Further to 112;

    I don't think you can *expect* countries which have been, as it were artificially created, to function as democracies, but that isn't to say that they *cannot* do so. 'The worst system, apart from all the others'*, might work in those countries, but it's more difficult for them, than for a country whose identity has developed over many centuries.

    *Churchill again, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Further to 111;

    A policy influenced by the leader of the FSA, Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh, when he raises the fear that the rebels will turn to terrorism (those who haven't already) if their demands for weapons are not met, has a very simple name: appeasement. As Churchill put it so beautifully:

    "The policy of being nice to a crocodile, in the hope that it will eat you last."

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    KL, 117;

    Too simplistic. Yugoslavia "worked" very well for 40 odd years under Tito; Syria has worked tolerably well, for much of the population, under the Assads - hence a degree of popular support for Bashar al-Assad which has been *consistently* underestimated by the western media. Another 'carve-up' increases the risk of causing the conflict to escalate, expand and drag on a la Yugoslavia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Syria doesn't work. In the same way as Yugoslavia didn't work.

    There are Cultural divides that go back to the Romans and beyond, that need time to heal. At best they can unite against an external threat, but when there's no one else around will fight each other, either Politically or Militarily.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    Further to 115, there are of course moderates of all ethnicities and sects in Syria with legitimate grievances, or who deserve a greater say in how the country is run. Leader of the SNC George Sabra is a Christian. But the feather-brained and discredited, rigid policy of 'regime change', as failed so miserably and spectacularly in neighbouring Iraq, will not work in Syria either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Knut Lagerson, 114;

    None of these countries need any further division IMO. Syria, like Yugoslavia, has been a place where a great variety of ethnic groups could live together. In effect, there was a trade-off in terms of political freedom, in exchange for religious/ethnic toleration. The Sunni majority's cries of "Shias to Iraq, Christians to Lebanon" means political freedom based on ethnicity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    After WWI the Ottoman Empire was partitioned and the French were given a Mandate over a number of States that eventually become modern Syria & Lebanon and a small part of Turkey (Hatay).
    From the outset most of the States were hostile to the French and each other.
    Maybe the solution is to divide the Country into smaller States along ethnic and Religious lines again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Syria is not democratic but has a form of elections. We helping to over throw the Syrian government when Saudi, Bahrain and the UAE are all unelected oppressive monarchies (The Bahrain government has banned protesting)
    @ Philoleb
    There has been more than one car bombing and civilians were killed or are pro-government civilians valid targets? In the civilized world, we call it terrorism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Josvan, 107;

    "...the west created countries after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and created Syria and Iraq.."

    IMO you can't expect *any* country carved out in such circumstances, to really function as a democracy, even after a century; true as much for Saudi Arabia as for Syria. And from more or less the same time and empire - *Yugoslavia*. These countries must realise their own destinies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Leader of the FSA's latest appeal for help is a veiled blackmail - he says without help, the insurgents will all turn to terrorism. But these Salafist/ Wahabbi/Mujahideen 'Allahu Akhbar'-shrieking maniacs will turn their attention to anyone who doesn't subscribe to their demented ideology anyway - as after Bosnia (2 veterans were among 9/11 hijackers), as just one example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Philobeb where is your proof? Every single minute of TV reports depicting the Rebel Alliance (TM George Lucas) has the words "Allahu Akba"r being shouted along with women wearing Hijabs. These are not seen or heard when the Shia/Christians are presented. The majority of the Rebels are Sunni Muslims! or provide your evidence against this...

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    @4 1) There is nothing terrorist in car bombing military HQ its the same as conducting areal bombing of military HQ. The terrorist act is car bombing civilians, just like its a terrorist act to conduct areal bombings of civilians.
    2) LOL
    3) After bashar, Syria will be a free secular country, which is better than oppressed secular country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    @82 you realize that the majority of rebels arent islamists? Sporting a thick beard during war is something arabs do irrespective of religion, so not every bearded guy is terrorist or even muslim. However, islamists are getting a lot of money from saudi, this is why the US wants to unify the opposition so that the group it arms militarily overwhelm islamists, to have a secular and free syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    The creation of nation states in the middle east was a failure, the west created countries after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and created Syria and Iraq. These are not natural boundaries, there should be homelands for Western Armenia, Kurds, Alawites, Syriac, Christians etc. Let's get a new map of the Middle East, where an Alawite/Shia and Christian non Sunni community can live in secular peace

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Why is Assad a murderous Dictator? Is this because all of the Goebels Propaganda coming from the US Sate dept, Clinton, and BBC where fake massacres and faked stories are used to brain wash people. The Assad security forces are the official forces, just as if the Shia's in Eastern Saudi Arabia or Bahrain will be crushed by Saudi Government forces. Maybe Assad should have bought his planes from us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    @104, au contraire, if the opposition wants Asad out, they need to get together.
    A few years ago, I was studying with a Palestinian guy who told me the only reason Israel could bully them was that the Arabs as a whole could not get together and agree on anything. This is exemplified in T E Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom (and the movie)

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    No, a 'unified opposition' group is not the answer - we need a diversity of options between which the citizens of Syria can choose in free elections. All this will do is set the stage for more brawling between 2 groups of thugs neither of whom have a mandate from the Syrian people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    @83. The joys allright... Islam is responsible for so much un-necessary suffering in the world. If I were a muslim I would convert to Christianity or even agnostic as fast as I can. Christians believe that God's kingdom and laws will be on earth just like muslims do however some muslims think that they can force it earlier than God intends, through violence and murder, this is Islam perverted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Seymour Hersh, 2007

    "..the U.S. government consultant told me, Bandar and other Saudis have assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists' ..... It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at - Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”


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