The Syrian opposition’s newly elected interim Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto pledged that rebel-held areas will apply the rule of law, as he began to build a government to replace President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking yesterday after opposition delegates chose him for the premier’s post during a meeting in Istanbul, Hitto said his administration would begin to govern from inside the country, appealed for members of the armed forces to lay down their weapons and promised that there would be no dialogue with Assad. The opposition should take the Syrian government’s seat at the United Nations and the Arab League and have control over the country’s embassies, he said.
While rebel fighters, including groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, have pushed Assad’s army from territory in the north of the country, they have struggled to create a united political and military structure two years after anti-Assad protests began. The civil war has killed more than 70,000 people and left 5 million as refugees or in need of aid, the UN says.
“For the government to succeed, it should unite Syrian guns under a professional army,” Brigadier-General Mustapha al-Sheikh, one of the first senior officers to defect from the Syrian army, said in an interview from close to the Turkish border. “The civilian rebels do not have the experience or the discipline to act like professional troops.”
Hitto won 35 of 49 votes, according to a count broadcast on Al Jazeera television. 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 on the Syrian opposition’s Facebook page.
The new premier will present a list of ministers to the Syrian National Coalition for approval, Hisham Marwa, a member of the coalition, said in Istanbul 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 pro-Assad Al Watan newspaper said the coalition is “detached from reality and developments on the ground.”
In fighting yesterday, a scud missile killed several people in the town of Khan al-Asal, Al Arabiya television reported, citing the rebels’ Aleppo Media Center. Twenty-six people died, including 16 government soldiers, in the rocket attack, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page.
Syrian State television accused “terrorists” of firing a rocket laden with chemicals, and Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi described the attack as a “grave escalation.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has warned the Syrian government that the use of such weapons would be a “red line” that would bring consequences. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the allegation was probably an attempt to discredit the opposition.
Syrian forces killed 90 people yesterday, including 34 in Damascus and its suburbs, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian opposition group. Forty-three government soldiers were kipped, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Britain and France last week pressed their European Union partners to lift an arms embargo on Syria, arguing that Europe should do more to help the opposition. The U.K. has announced it will supply armored vehicles and body armor, while France said it may act alone to arm the rebels.