Syria’s Main Opposition Group Opens First Office in Istanbul

The Syrian National Council, an alliance of opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, opened its first office, located in Istanbul, a member of the bloc said.

The council plans to hold a vote for a parliament in exile, said Motee al-Bateen, a member of the council’s executive branch. The group is coordinating with other opposition factions and Arab nations for a meeting in Istanbul, where the voting will take place, he said in a telephone interview.

Turkey, which has been hosting opposition gatherings and housing Syrian refugees including the founder of a rebel army, is increasing pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end a nine-month crackdown that the United Nations estimates has killed 5,000 people. The countries most recently suspended a free-trade agreement and imposed 30 percent import levies, while Syria unilaterally closed some border crossings, citing maintenance issues.

“Right now, we have one request from Turkey: that they get together with Arab nations to protect Syrians and cut all ties with the Syrian regime,” al-Bateen said from Istanbul. The 43-year-old architect, who also practiced as an imam, said he fled to Turkey in mid-June.

The council’s Istanbul office will serve as a headquarters for opposition members in Turkey and from other countries to meet, al-Bateen said. It will have a staff of 15 people, who will provide information in “multiple” languages, he said.

Opposition Army Ties

Discussions are ongoing to establish ties with the opposition Free Syrian Army, al-Bateen said. The army’s founder, former Syrian colonel Riad al-As’ad, is in a refugee camp on the southern border province of Hatay.

At least eight Syrian soldiers died in an ambush by army defectors near Hama in retaliation for the killing of five civilians earlier today, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement.

The Syrian army clashed twice with members of a “terrorist group” since Dec. 6 along the Turkish border, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency. Wounded members of the group retreated to Turkey, SANA reported.

Turkey has no information about clashes across the border, or people fleeing to Turkey as a result, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official said yesterday in a telephone interview, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. Turkey denies sending armed men to Syria or training an opposition militia at the refugee camps.

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