Posted by Joshua on Monday, November 12th, 2012
Ten countries promised recognition of the new “National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian Opposition”, including Saudi, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, US, German, Italy, France.
Mouaz al-Khatib, a former imam at the famous Umayyad mosque in Damascus, was voted as president. Riad Seif, who proposed the initiative to form the new group, and female activist Suhair al-Atassi were chosen as deputies. All three have served time in Syrian prisons and left the country recently. (See BBC’s Excellent profile of Khatib)
It is a big day for the Syrian opposition. Defying naysayers and skeptics, the opposition came together in Doha to follow the outlines of the Riad Seif plan. Opposition members the world over are electrified by the outcome and moving speeches given by the opposition’s new leadership. Assad regime must be worried, as it has survived for 42 years thanks to Syria’s fragmentation.
Now the challenge will be to unite the militias on the ground in Syria behind the new civilian leadership. The role of Qatar, the US, France and Britain have been central in encouraging unity.
Ahmad Moaz Al Khatib Al Hassani – official webpage with speeches given in the past
George Sabra’s Speech on Youtube Very moving. One Syrian friend writes: “This speech made me feel proud to be a Syrian Christian for the first time in a long time.”
Names of the members of the ‘itilaf al-watani
معاذ الخطيب، رياض سيف،سهير الأتاسي، جورج صبرا كلهم معتقلين سابقين بسجون النظام،ورياض خسر ابنه ثمنا لانتقاده رامي مخلوف
Gulf States Recognize New Syrian Opposition Group, 2012-11-12
Dubai, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council says it has recognized the new broad-based Syrian opposition group as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Monday’s statement is the first formal recognition for the newly united opposition group that seeks to topple President Bashar Assad. It also could be another step toward opening up greater military aid to the rebels from the Gulf states such as Qatar, which hosted the Syrian opposition meeting.
His assembly was recognized by the six Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdoms of the Gulf Cooperation Council as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people”. Washington said it would back it “as it charts a course toward the end of Assad’s bloody rule and the start of the peaceful, just, democratic future”.
The Arab League welcomed the formation of the new body, called on other opposition groups to join it and described it as “a legitimate representative and a primary negotiator”, but fell short of calling it the new authority in Syria.
Syrian opposition agrees deal, chooses preacher as leader
By RANIA EL GAMAL, REUTERS November 12, 2012
DOHA – Syrian opposition leaders struck a hard-won deal on Sunday under intense international pressure to form a broad, new coalition to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and chose a popular Islamist activist to head the body.
Mouaz al-Khatib, a former imam at the famous Umayyad mosque in Damascus, was voted as president. Riad Seif, who proposed the initiative to form the new group, and female activist Suhair al-Atassi were chosen as deputies.
Delegates, who had struggled for days in the Qatari capital Doha to find the unity their Western and Arab backers have long urged, said the coalition would ensure a voice for religious and ethnic minorities and for the rebels fighting on the ground, who have complained of being overlooked by exiled dissident groups.
U.S. hails creation of new Syrian exile opposition group
By Roy Gutman | McClatchy Newspapers – November 11, 2012
Riad Seif, a Syrian businessman who served in the Syrian Parliament and then spent several terms in jail as a political dissident, was the principal organizer of the new initiative and was elected a deputy president of the new group. Suhair al Atassi, a female anti-Assad activist, was elected as a second vice president.
Jones, the U.S. official, urged the new organization, whose full name is the Syrian National Coalition for the Forces of the Opposition and the Revolution, to set up a technical group with which the international community can “work quickly.” She said she was sending a top level official to London to attend an emergency aid meeting that the British government has called for Friday.
In late October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly called for the new group to supplant the Syrian National Council, which had been the biggest exile umbrella group. Founded little over a year ago, the SNC has been widely criticized for infighting, lackluster leadership, and a failure to raise sufficient funds or to establish close links with fighting groups inside Syria.
But the new coalition may face some of the same organizational problems that the Syrian National Council did. Syrian emigres do not have well-formed political parties, no surprise after four decades of a police state dictatorship, and the only group that appears able to develop a political strategy is the Muslim Brotherhood.
A second problem is the political constellation under which the new coalition was formed – public pressure from the United States, which is widely criticized by Syrians in and out of the country for giving plenty of advice but having done little to arm the rebels.
The new group also must determine how to incorporate the original Syrian National Council into its operation. The council this past week restructured itself and elected a Christian, George Sabra, as its president. Sabra immediately called for the international community to arm the rebels. “We need arms. We need arms. We need arms,” Sabra said, a distinctly more vigorous presentation than Khatib’s on Sunday night.
The government of Qatar, which hosted both the council’s organizational talks and the discussions that led to the creation of the Syrian National Coalition, invited both groups to stay in Doha until Nov. 25 in order to figure out how to meld their organizations.
Additionally, U.S. officials also may face difficulty rationalizing Khatib’s positions with U.S. policy. Western diplomats said Khatib has been a critic of twin accords agreed to in Cairo last July that Riad Seif was instrumental in drafting that specify that a post-Assad Syria should be secular in nature. Khatib has been critical of the documents because they make no reference to Islamic Shariah law.
Jones’ statement made clear that the U.S. government will not accept changes in the Cairo documents. “The basis of our cooperation remains the National Compact and the Transition plan announced in Cairo last July, as well as respect for human rights protections and equal treatment for all Syrian citizens,” the statement said.
Asked by e-mail whether she had made the statement out of concern for Khatib’s previous positions, Jones’ spokesman said he had no comment.
Syrian opposition groups strike reorganization deal –
By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Wash Post
DOHA, Qatar — Fractious Syrian opposition groups finally struck a deal Sunday to form a new umbrella organization after a week of heated negotiations that were nearly derailed on several occasions.
The new organization, 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 as the conduit for humanitarian and military aid.
At the end of October, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian National Council, the opposition group formed in August 2011, could no longer claim to be the credible leader of the opposition.
In recent months, the SNC has been criticized as an ineffectual organization out of touch with events on the ground in Syria.
Although many details of the structure of the new coalition and the timeline for achieving its political goals remained largely undefined Sunday, international supporters of the opposition praised the agreement and highlighted what appeared to be a new willingness of activists to work together.
A Syrian opposition conference held in Cairo in July led to fistfights between some activists.
“The regime fears most that the opposition unifies,” said Riyad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister who defected in 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 extremist groups that are on the rise in the country….
Moaz Khatib, former imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, was named president of the new coalition. Khatib, who appeared at the signing ceremony Sunday night wearing a gray suit rather than clerical robes, is viewed as a religious moderate and is widely respected by opposition members inside and outside Syria. Riad Seif, a longtime activist who led the initiative to start a new coalition, and Suhair Atassi, a prominent female activist, were named vice presidents.
“After long suffering, the multiple national forces have reached a coalition of one front to help our people who are being slaughtered every day on the watch of the world,” Khatib said at the signing ceremony, which was attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu and Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani.
The leaders of the coalition said that gaining international recognition was a top priority and that Khatib may head to Cairo as soon as Monday to pursue recognition from the Arab League.
That would be followed by a push to get recognition from the Friends of Syria group, which includes the United States, followed by a pitch to the United Nations. Many prominent activists said they had received repeated assurances from their foreign backers that they would receive recognition quickly.
By Faisal Baatout (AFP) –
DOHA — …. After four days of marathon talks in Qatar, the Syrian National Council finally signed up to a wider, more representative bloc centred on a government-in-waiting, as demanded by Arab and Western states.
… Reservations in SNC ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition’s Arab and Western supporters. But after negotiations ran into the early hours of Sunday and resumed in the afternoon, the anti-Assad factions agreed to form a “National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition.”
“We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition,” said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the US-backed reform proposals on which Sunday’s agreement was based. In a copy of the document obtained by AFP, the parties “agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars,” and rule out any dialogue with the regime….
They agreed to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas….A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen.
The deal came after the SNC, which had formerly been seen as the main opposition group, heeded Arab and Western pressure to agree to a new structure embracing groups that had been unwilling to join its ranks.
Former prime minister Riad Hijab, who fled to neighbouring Jordan in August in the highest-ranking defection from Assad’s government, hailed the agreement as “an advanced step towards toppling the regime.”
Anti-Assad Syria National Council picks a Christian to be its new leader
By Roy Gutman
DOHA, Qatar — Syria’s biggest political opposition bloc Friday elected a Christian, George Sabra, as president, a move Sabra said showed that the Muslim-majority nation will not allow its national uprising to descend into sectarian war.
Sabra, a geography teacher who once wrote for the Arabic version of “Sesame Street,” immediately demanded that the international community provide arms to the rebels so that they can protect Syrian civilians from regime attack.
Western nations, he told reporters after the vote by the Syrian National Council, should “support our right to survival.” He added, “To protect ourselves, we need weapons.”
Tens of thousands of Syrians have died in the uprising, which began as peaceful demonstrations against the government of President Bashar Assad. But it has become a bloody civil war pitting the Syrian army and air force against rebels who despite a lack of heavy weapons have seized large swaths of Syrian countryside and have fought loyalist forces to a standstill in Aleppo, the country’s largest city.
Sabra seemed stunned by his sudden elevation to the council’s top post. “It is an unbelievable moment in my life,” he told reporters. “I promise to become a representative for all the Syrian people.”
It was uncertain whether Sabra’s selection would rehabilitate the Syrian National Council in the eyes of the United States. Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. no longer would recognize the council as the primary anti-Assad organization, saying too many of its members had lived in exile for decades and that a new opposition group should include more representation from people fighting inside Syria.
Sabra may help fit that requirement. A longtime member of Syria’s communist party, which renamed itself the Syrian Democratic People’s Party in 2005, Sabra went into exile only in October after serving two months in prison for inciting dissent. Previously, he had served eight years in prison during the regime of Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad.
Sabra credited his election to the intervention of a conservative Islamist from Homs, a Sunni Muslim city that has been the scene of brutal fighting between rebels and pro-Assad forces for most of this year.
Until the Islamist, Wasal al Shamali, who was here representing the Supreme Council for Revolutionary Commands, a collection of rebel-held cities in Syria, spoke on Sabra’s behalf, Sabra wasn’t even a member of the group’s top governing committee, the general secretariat. The Syrian National Council has been criticized because its 41-member secretariat includes no women or Alawites, the religious offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs.
Shamali, however, said that Sabra should have his place on the general secretariat.
“I didn’t even know his name,” Sabra told McClatchy. “He was in tears.”
Added Sabra: “After that, who can talk about sectarianism when a Muslim sacrifices his place for a Christian?”
The group later elected Sabra its president, 28-13, over Hisham Marwah, an Islamic legal scholar.
Sabra said his selection should signal to the international community: “Look at Syria. There is no sectarianism inside Syria. All the people here, Muslims, voted for Christians.”
He said the Syria that he and others are fighting for “doesn’t have minorities and majorities. We have citizenship. And as I am a citizen, my colleagues elected me.”
Whether that sentiment translates inside Syria is less clear. In recent weeks, fighting has broken out between Arab rebels and Kurdish militias in Aleppo, and some Sunni Muslims have vowed revenge on Alawites for their support of Assad. The country’s organized Christian religious groups have to date remained firmly allied with the Assad government, saying they fear that the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels won’t protect their rights once Assad is gone. There are also concerns that Islamist militants are playing a growing role in the rebellion.
Concerns of the growing influence of Islamists among the rebels are often cited by U.S. officials for their hesitancy to provide weapons, though many in the opposition argue that the U.S. failure to provide weapons is strengthening the Islamists.
Still to be determined is how Sabra’s election might affect plans, backed by the United States, the Arab League and Qatar, to restructure the opposition.
Under the U.S-backed move, dissident Riad Seif, a successful industrialist from Damascus and former member of the Syrian Parliament, had proposed setting up a new organization, the Syrian National Initiative, with a majority of members not from the Syrian National Council. The Syrian National Initiativewould set up a smaller body of technocrats, who would deal directly with the international community and help funnel humanitarian aid into the country.
Sabra said the SNC would discuss under what conditions it would participate in the new group on Saturday. Sabra said the SNC also would consider an alternative plan that would set up a 300-member assembly primarily of fighters and officials inside Syria to elect a transitional government.
“Our main goal is to unite the opposition to bring down the regime,” Sabra said.
One surprise aspect of the Syrian National Council’s vote Friday was that it was conducted in the open, following a more or less democratic process under which its membership base of 425 voted first for a general secretariat of 41, which then selected the executive committee and the president.
When it came time to vote for the president, the council allowed reporters to witness the process.
Syria’s main opposition bloc elects Christian former teacher as new president
By Associated Press, Published: November 9
DOHA, Qatar — Syria’s main opposition group in exile elected a left-wing veteran dissident born into a Christian family as its new president on Friday, a choice that could help counter Western concerns about possible Islamist influence over the group.
George Sabra, a Communist-turned-social-democrat and former high school teacher who once wrote for the Arabic version of Sesame Street, said his election as head of the Syrian National Council is proof that Syrians are not beholden to sectarianism.
“This day is a victory of the Syrian people to prove all over the world the reality of the Syrians … as young people shouted in the streets, ‘Syrian people are one, one, one,’” he said moments after his victory was announced at a conference in Doha, Qatar. Sabra’s election came on the eve of a crucial decision for the SNC.
Jordan Said to Help Arm Syria Rebels
Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2012
Shipments Are Routed Through Border as Kingdom Steps Up Aid, Opposition Members Say; Amman Denies Connection
By NOUR MALAS And MARGARET COKER
AMMAN, Jordan—Jordan has stepped up its support for neighboring Syria’s political and military opposition, including allowing some light arms to flow across the border, according to Syrian rebels and an Arab official familiar with the operation.
Several shipments of arms—including assault rifles, Russian-designed antitank missiles and ammunition—have been delivered to the border in Jordanian military trucks and then taken into Syria by rebel brigades, according to Syrian rebel fighters. Dozens of other shipments have been smuggled to Syria with the covert support of Jordanian border officials, these people say. Saudi Arabia and Qatar pay for these arms and transport them to Jordan, say rebel fighters based along the Syria-Jordan border and a person involved in arms procurement for the rebels….The Syrian groups receiving arms from the Jordanian border are now connected to the military councils that have been vetted by Washington and others, say people involved in the transaction.Some of the light weapons said to be entering Syria through Jordan are destined for the southern Syrian border town of Dera’a, where the popular uprising kicked off last year. Most of the arms, though, were pushed north to the suburbs of Damascus, 60 miles north, in possible preparation for a push on the capital, according to rebel leaders.
Mr Assad also rejected calls that he seek a safe exit, vowing he would “live and die in Syria”. “I am not a puppet…. I am Syrian and I must live and die in Syria,” Assad, who is facing a nearly 20-month revolt against his rule, told Russian Arabic-language channel Rusiya Al-Yaum.
Prime Minister David Cameron this week floated the idea of granting Mr Assad safe passage from the country, saying it “could be arranged” though he wanted the Syrian leader to face international justice. Mr Assad also warned against a foreign intervention to deal with Syria’s escalating conflict, saying such a move would have “global consequences” and shake regional stability.
Missteps by Rebels Erode Their Support Among Syrians
By Anne Barnard | The New York Times
The Syrian public is increasingly disgusted with the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners.
Post Election, Obama Gambles on Syrian Rebels
Nov 10, 2012- DailyBeast, Michael G
The U.S. has made its boldest move yet on Syria to date, pushing to create a new and better opposition that it can trust—and that it hopes Syrians will too.
In the wake of Barack Obama’s reelection, the United States has decided to take what seasoned observers call its boldest move yet in the conflict in Syria. In Doha this week—the elegant seaside capital of Qatar, the tiny Persian Gulf nation ranked as the world’s wealthiest by Forbes—America, in collaboration with its Qatari ally, is trying to shape a better and more credible opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following more than a year of infighting between Syria’s notoriously fractious and ineffective resistance.
Wading so directly into Syria’s bloody conflict is fraught with pitfalls for the U.S. government. “It’s a gamble by the State Department to stake such a strong claim in efforts to restructure the opposition,” says Steven Heydemann of the United States Institute for Peace, who has tracked the conflict from the start and who has been part of transition talks with Syrian opposition members. “I think it was a dramatic and risky move. If it works, it will be seen as having been a stroke of diplomatic genius.”
In London, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said talks with rebel military leaders would not involve advice on military tactics or support for their operations. Hague also insisted that Britain would not consider offering weapons to Assad’s opponents.
Syria: leader of rebels warns they might ‘turn into terrorists’
The leader of the Free Syrian Army has called on the outside world to back the rebels before they all “turn into terrorists”.
Syria: leader of rebels warns they might ‘turn into terrorists’
By Richard Spencer, Idlib Province, Syria, and Ruth Sherlock in Doha, 09 Nov 2012
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in his base in rebel-occupied Syria, Gen. Mustafa al-Sheikh unveiled a new leadership of the Higher Military Council of the FSA, which he heads.
He also said he welcomed David Cameron’s decision to engage with the rebels and even consider organising arms supplies, but he added that war was spreading to surrounding countries, the rebels were fractured and speed was of the essence.
“If there’s no quick decision to support us, we will all turn into terrorists,” he said. “If you apply the pressure that’s been applied to Syria, it will explode in all directions. Terrorism will grow quickly.”
Gen Sheikh was the first of a number of regime army generals to defect to the rebels, joining Col Riad al-Assad at the head of the FSA. The rebels fighting the battles on the ground though are not only divided among themselves but often refuse to recognise his leadership.
Aware that this is a major reason for the reluctance of Western powers to arm them or encourage their Middle Eastern allies to supply rebel forces, on Friday announced a new unified command structure, dividing Syria into five commands each with a defected general at its head.
Assad says only ‘ballot box’ can decide his future
Khaleej Times – 10 November, 2012
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad said his future could only be decided through the ballot box, in an interview with Russian television where he warned the country could face a protracted war.
Assad told Russia Today that whether the president can “stay or leave” is a “popular issue” and “the only way (it) can be done (is) through the ballot boxes”. He denied Syria was in “civil war” but said the conflict with rebels could be “a long-term war” if they continued to receive support from abroad.
Syria in Ruins
Nov 8, 2012 |
While much recent media attention has been focused on Hurricane Sandy and America’s presidential election, Syria’s horrific civil war continues. In some places, it has worsened. Aerial bombardment of civilian neighborhoods, deadly sniper fire, brutal street fighting, assassinations, and summary executions have become the norm in Syria. Cease-fire agreements have collapsed, rebel forces remain disorganized, foreign intervention is still hamstrung, and no path to peace appears to be forming yet. Britain is now reportedly looking for options to circumvent an arms embargo in order to supply rebels with weaponry. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains defiant, stating in an interview with Russia Today that he planned “live and die in Syria,” adding, “I am tougher than Gaddafi.” Collected here are images of this bloody conflict from just the past few weeks. [48 photos]
Beware of the Islamist Trap
By Monte Palmer
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.
Islamists, judging by the use of the term in the global press, is a simplified way of referring to all Muslim groups seeking some form of Islamic rule in the Middle East.
Like most simplistic expressions, “Islamist,” is laden with hidden traps. The first Islamist trap is believing that all Muslim groups seeking some form of Islamic rule in the Middle East are of one mind and body. They are not. The second Islamist trap is assuming that all groups seeking some form of Islamist rule are inherently hostile to the interests of the United States and its allies. Some are, and some are not. The third Islamist trap is thinking that the US and its allies can stop the Islamist surge now sweeping the Middle East by diplomacy, sanctions, and covert action. The verdict on this supposition has yet to be rendered, but the outlook is not promising. The fourth and most lethal Islamist trap is the belief that force alone can stop the Islamists. Iraq and Afghanistan suggest otherwise.
The dangers of assuming that all Islamists are the same is easily illustrated by a brief review of the four main Sunni Islamist currents competing for control of the Middle East.
The most liberal of the four main Islamist currents is Islam Lite, the sarcastic Turkish nickname for the Justice and Development Party that has ruled Turkey within a secular framework for more than a decade. Islam Lite, the most forward looking of the four Islamic currents, has built Turkey into the world’s seventeenth largest economy, consolidated Turkish democracy, brought Turkey to the doorstep of membership in the European Union, reaffirmed Turkey membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and established Turkey as the dominant Muslim power in the Middle East and beyond.
This is not to deny that the Justice and Development Party does have an Islamic agenda that seeks to create a more Islamic state in Turkey and the Arab world. At the domestic level, the Justice and Development Party has implemented sweeping Islamic reforms that promote veiling (head scarfs), prayer in schools, and other Islamic practices outlawed by Turkey’s revolutionary leaders in the aftermath of World War I. While these Islamic reforms are hardly earth shaking, seculars worry that they are but the first step in the Party’s much deeper Islamic agenda.
At the regional and international levels, the Justice and Development Party’s Islamic agenda includes support for Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, Tunisia, and the Gaza Strip. It also calls for an independent Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. All have soured Turkey’s relations with Israel, but war between the two former allies is not in the picture.
Partnership with the US and EU is an essential component of Islam Lite. Subservience is not. Some observers accuse Turkey of using Islam to extend its regional influence. The Israelis, by contrast, worry that Turkey will use its military power to extend its Islamic reach.
While neither thought can be discounted, the Islamic Lite model practiced in Turkey does demonstrate that moderate Islamic rule is compatible with democracy and development. Much like Turkey itself, the Justice and Development Party provides an avenue for cooperation and dialogue between the West and Muslim currents throughout the Middle East.
Things, however, may not be as simple as they seem. The Turkish model is deeply rooted in Turkish history and culture and may not be exportable to either the Arab world or the Islamic regions of Central Asia. Also problematic is the weakness of Islamic Lite currents in other areas of the Middle East, All, with rare exceptions lack a firm organizational network and their popular support base pales in comparison to those of the Muslim Brotherhood and even the more extremist Salafis.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Next in the hierarchy of religious extremism comes the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s largest and most powerful Islamic organization. The Brotherhood now rules in Egypt and Tunisia and exercises profound influence throughout the region. The name may differ from place to place, but they are all Brotherhood offshoots…..
Syria border fighting sends 8,000 fleeing to Turkey
The total of 11,000 who fled the country in 24 hours is one of the largest since the Syrian conflict began, underscoring the crisis for civilians.
Video of TNT bomb being dumped of the back of a helicopter in Syria.
New Jihadi Group, Liwa Al-Mujahideen, Established In Syria
Three video clips pertaining to a new jihadi group in Syria, Liwa Al-Mujahideen, were circulated on YouTube during October 2012. The first was an announcement of the group’s establishment; in the second, the group’s commander explained its raison d’etre; and in the third, the group announced that it had formed the Al-Sahaba Battalion, which would operate in the rural region around Damascus.
L’inversement des rôles entre Damas et Téhéran
BY wassim NASR in (L’Express) shift of roles between Damascus and Tehran :