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New Syrian Opposition Group Gets Backing From Arab League

Abdelbaset Sieda
Former head of the Syrian National Council Abdelbaset Sieda said that there is “no alternative” other than to base the new government within Syrian territory, where it will need “protection in addition to financial resources so that it can perform its duties.” Source: AP

Syria’s new opposition coalition plans to form a transitional government after it gains international recognition, said Abdelbaset Sieda, a member of the group.

The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, set up Nov. 11 after more than a week of meetings in the Qatari capital Doha, will boost international support for the opposition by showing unity, Sieda said in a phone interview yesterday.

The Arab League, meeting in Cairo, agreed yesterday to a resolution recognizing the new group as representing the “aspirations of the Syrian people.” It called on nations and others to support the rebel coalition “politically and materially.”

The Arab League action followed by hours a similar announcement by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia. The council recognized the opposition body and offered support “to meet the demands and the hopes of the Syrian people,” the Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a statement by the council’s secretary general, Abullatif Al Zayani.

The Syrian umbrella group will include political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, with leaders of the rebel fighters to make up a separate military council that will be formed by the government. It’s an effort to unite the anti-Assad forces, which have remained divided even as the violence intensifies and Arab and Western countries urge unity.

Deaths in Uprising

More than 35,000 people have died since the uprising began in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian troops loyal to Assad killed 128 people across the country yesterday, including 49 in or around the capital Damascus, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mailed statement.

The National Coalition chose as its head Mouaz al-Khatib, a Muslim cleric who has been calling for a united front among Syria’s sectarian and ethnic groups since the start of the uprising.

“There will be a transitional government,” said Sieda, who until last week had headed the Syrian National Council, an earlier effort to unify the opposition. He said that there is “no alternative” other than to base the new government within Syrian territory, where it will need “protection in addition to financial resources so that it can perform its duties.”

The formation of the coalition is only a “first step” and its members have “got to show that they can work effectively to have some impact on the ground,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center in Qatar.

Umbrella Group

The U.S. government welcomed the formation of the new umbrella group, which it had worked behind the scenes to encourage after backing away from the Syrian National Council.

The U.S. had criticized the exile-run council for political infighting, ineffectiveness and for failing to unite with groups doing the fighting in Syria. The Obama administration sent several senior diplomats, including Ambassador to Syria Stephen Ford, to participate in Doha on the fringes of the organizational talks.

“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,” Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said in an e-mailed statement that pledged humanitarian and non-lethal assistance.

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