Syria’s opposition council rejects West-backed plan

The conflict is likely to be won on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table

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The Independent Online

A Western-backed initiative to form a new representative body for the Syrian opposition was thrown into doubt today as the Syrian National Council fought to cling to its position. Meanwhile, car bomb attacks on the ground served as a stark reminder of the urgency of the task in hand.

Plans to forge a new opposition body incorporating more groups from inside the country's borders hit an obstacle as figures in the SNC, the main opposition umbrella group, voiced hostility to the initiative, said a Western diplomat present at discussions in the Qatari capital Doha.

In an attempt to bolster its beleaguered reputation, the SNC –criticised for being dominated by academics and exiles – instead announced it would broaden its ranks.

As the Syrian conflict looks increasingly likely to be fought and won on the battlefield rather than at the negotiating table, there have been growing calls for an opposition body that better represents the fractured fighting forces of the Free Syrian Army and local revolutionary councils.

The SNC is under pressure from the United States to cede to a larger council. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sharply criticised the group last week for being out of touch, as the Obama administration threw its weight behind what has been dubbed as the "Riad Seif" initiative, after the veteran opposition figure who helped to pen it.

The initiative, which offers the SNC just 15 of the 50 seats on a new council, has been slammed by the group as an attempt to "sow the seeds of division and discord" and the fierce opposition has fuelled scepticism as to whether the plan can succeed.

"It's a big challenge and it's not clear yet if the Syrian opposition will reach a consensus," said the senior Western diplomat. "Bringing extra people into the SNC will not be enough to create legitimacy inside Syria. There must be a much more significant shake-up to change the way the opposition is viewed on the ground."

The SNC voted today to almost double its members to 420 and is expected to elect a new leader and executive committee before wider talks begin with other factions on Thursday – during which the new US-backed Syrian National Initiative will be mooted.

Western nations have indicated that a more inclusive and transparent opposition body would pave the way for increased non-lethal assistance, though much of the Syrian opposition argue that does not go far enough.

Meanwhile, Syria saw another day of bloodshed. A huge car bomb hit a state-run development agency in a village in the Hama province, with one monitoring group saying it had killed 50 of President Bashar al-Assad's security forces in what would be one of the bloodiest single strikes against the regime so far. However, the claims could not be immediately verified, and state media put the death toll at two.

Another bomb hit the affluent Mezzeh 86 area of Damascus, where many residents are members of Assad's Alawite sect, killing at 11 least people, according to state media. More than 30 were reportedly injured in the blast.