March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Syria’s main political opposition elected Ghassan Hitto as head of an interim government to administer areas inside the country held by rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
Hitto got 35 of 49 votes, according to a count broadcast live on Al Jazeera from Istanbul, where the election was held. The 50-year-old communications executive was born in Damascus and has a bachelor’s degree from Indiana’s Purdue University and an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University, according to a resume posted on the Syrian opposition’s Facebook page.
The new premier will present a list of ministers to the coalition for approval, Hisham Marwa, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, said in Istanbul yesterday before the vote. The new government’s base inside Syria won’t be disclosed because it would be targeted by Assad’s forces, Marwa said.
“The election of a prime minister will help remove the legitimacy of the Assad regime if the international community recognizes the new government,” Brigadier-General Mustapha al-Sheikh, one of the first senior officers to defect from the Syrian army, said in an interview from a Syrian post near the Turkish border.
“But for the government to succeed, it should unite Syrian guns under a professional army,” he added. “The civilian rebels do not have the experience or the discipline to act like professional troops.”
Two years after peaceful anti-Assad protests began, the conflict has evolved into a civil war that has killed “well over” 70,000 people, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday. Attempts by the U.S., France and Britain to force Security Council action against Assad have been stymied by Russia and China.
“The sooner a military solution is abandoned, the better,” Ban said in a statement released by his office. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday called the refugee situation in Syria a “global catastrophe.”
He didn’t directly answer a question as to whether the Obama administration may reverse its current policy of providing only humanitarian and non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.
The establishment of an alternative government was included in the agreement that led to the formation of the opposition Syrian National Coalition in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in November.
The pro-Assad Al Watan newspaper said the coalition is “detached from reality and developments on the ground.”