Syrian Rebels Plan Transitional Government, Seize Nuclear Center

Syria’s main opposition group agreed to set up a transitional government seeking recognition as the legitimate alternative to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, as rebels said they seized control of a nuclear research center.

The Syrian National Coalition will name a premier for the new administration within 10 days, Haitham El-Maleh, a leading member of the group, said in a phone interview. He didn’t give further details.

Syrian rebel fighters seized control of a nuclear research center at Al Kibar, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzour, which was reportedly bombed by Israelis in 2007, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said in an e-mail. At least 85 people were killed today by Assad’s forces, the opposition Local Coordination Committees said, according to Al Arabiya television.

The coalition was set up in November at a meeting in Qatar to unify the forces, including Islamist groups, that have been fighting for two years to oust Assad. While it has won backing from the U.S., European allies and Arab League nations, it’s not clear how much control the group has over rebel forces engaged on the ground in a conflict that has killed almost 70,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.

Syria’s government and the National Coalition have both signaled in the past month that they are ready to hold talks, though there has been no agreement over terms and conditions.

Damascus Attack

The opposition group won’t accept any political solution that doesn’t involve Assad’s departure, and will insist that the president and his military and security leaders be tried for crimes against Syrians, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported today, citing a document drafted by the coalition after a two-day meeting in Cairo.

The government said a bomb attack in Damascus yesterday that left 53 people dead was carried out by groups linked to al-Qaeda. The bombing in the densely populated area also injured 235 people, the government said in a letter to the United Nations that was published by the state-run SANA news agency. The casualties included children and students, it said.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on its Facebook page that 61 people were killed in the bombing, including 17 members of the military. The attack took place in the vicinity of the Russian Embassy and the ruling Baath Party headquarters. No Russian diplomats or their families were hurt in the attack, which damaged the embassy’s windows and doors, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.

The opposition coalition blamed Assad’s government for the attack, saying it “never hesitates” to bomb residential areas.

“The Assad regime has opened the doors for anarchy in Syria in order to justify committing heinous and unprecedented crimes against the innocent Syrian population,” the group said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

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