Syrian opposition groups make reorganisation deal

 

Fractious Syrian opposition groups finally struck a deal here Sunday to form a new umbrella organization after a week of heated negotiations that nearly derailed on several occasions.

The new body, called the National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition, is intended to act as the single entity that manages the political and military affairs of the opposition and acts as the conduit for humanitarian and military aid.

"The regime fears most that the opposition unifies," said Riyad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister who defected in early August and attended the opposition conference last week. "I know that. I was part of that regime."

International backers of the opposition hope that a credible leadership for the group could win the support of ordinary Syrians and reduce the influence of extremists groups that are on the rise in the country.

"What we're looking for is an organization that can have credibility in the eyes of Syrians in Syria," said a Western diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.

One of the most contentious issues in the discussions at the conference was the role of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the opposition group formed in August 2011 and viewed by its foreign backers in recent months as increasingly ineffectual and out of touch with events on the ground in Syria.

Some members of the SNC pushed back hard against the initiative to form the new coalition, fearing it would mean the dissolution of their group. But many of the holdouts stood down under strong pressure from their colleagues who backed the initiative and the opposition's foreign supporters.

The SNC was offered additional seats to win its support and it will now receive roughly one-third of the 60 seats in the new coalition.

Approximately one quarter of the seats also will be set aside for members from inside Syria, which will include a representative from each of the country's 14 provinces.

"The most important components are those coming from inside Syria and they're fully on board," said Yaser Tabbara, a founding member of the SNC who helped shape the initiative to form the new coalition.

Provisions also have been made to include minorities in the new organization and a handful of seats have been set aside for Kurdish and Alawite representatives.

The new coalition will function as a sort of parliament rather than a government, according to participants in the discussions, and will be responsible for the creation of a legal committee, a military council and a temporary government.

Supporters of the new coalition are pushing for quick recognition from the international community, perhaps even before the process of selecting all the members of the body is complete, to receive frozen Syrian government funds, take over Syrian embassies and even pursue the seat of the Syrian government at the Arab League.

But it's the formation of the military council, which will include representatives from the Free Syrian Army as well as local militias and defectors, which may be the most important step for the new coalition.

The distribution of military aid to armed groups in Syria has been chaotic and led to in-fighting amongst various factions. Now, the countries giving military aid, which include Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have decided to channel the weapons through a centralized body that could establish some degree of control over the process.

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