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Nations Supporting Syrian Opposition to Meet in Morocco

  • Meredith Buel

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (C) hosts a gathering of Friends of Syria group in New York, September 28, 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (C) hosts a gathering of Friends of Syria group in New York, September 28, 2012.

High-level representatives from nations in the Friends of Syria group are to meet Wednesday in Morocco for the first time since the formation of a new Syrian opposition coalition.

More than 100 delegations are expected to attend the conference in Marrakesh with the goal of agreeing on a strategy for a political transition if the government in Damascus falls.

Analysts expect the United States and other countries will recognize the newly reorganized opposition coalition.

Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the meeting will galvanize the opposition.

“And that will be a major political shot in the arm for the opposition, which at the moment is trying to organize in a better fashion and trying to better coordinate with the armed units within Syria that are fighting against the Assad regime,” he said.

U.S. Assistance for Syria

$200 million in humanitarian aid
-Helps 4 million people in Syria and 460,000 Syrian refugees
-Provides food, water, medical and relief supplies

$50 million to assist unarmed opposition groups
-Supports civil society groups and local councils
-Supports independent media projects, training for citizen journalists
-Facilitates linkages between elements to support democratic transition planning

Source: State Department

Rebels advancing

After 21 months of conflict, which has killed more than 40,000 people, Syrian rebels appear to be scoring significant gains against President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

Nations supporting the ouster of Assad now are racing to prevent military developments from overtaking efforts to create a political transition.

Tabler said that it's not clear who would assume power if Assad is ousted. “In my opinion, given the pace of events, it is likely to be those that are taking the shots against Assad that will be calling the shots once he is gone," he said.

"Will they work with or cede power to civilians who are now operating in exile and will be meeting in Marrakesh or will they continue to fight on the ground?" he asked. "Will groups fight each other and will Syria be plunged into warlordism? We just don’t know.”

Concerns over Islamist fighters

There is mounting concern that Islamic extremists are becoming a significant force among armed opposition groups within Syria.

A day before the meeting in Morocco, the U.S. designated Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, citing its strong ties to al-Qaida in Iraq.

The move is an effort to blunt the influence of jihadists as Western countries step up cooperation with the Syrian opposition.

Morocco’s Deputy Foreign Minister Youssef Amrani told VOA’s Press Conference USA program that the longer the violence continues in Syria, the more Islamic extremists will benefit.

“We have to fight all kind of ideologies which encourage hate, the exclusion of the other, because Islam is not a religion of exclusion," he said. "Islam is compatible with democracy. What we need to fight is these fundamentalist organizations, which give a bad image of Islam, which is not compatible with our values today.”

Analyst Tabler said such jihadi groups fight alongside Free Syrian Army units, especially when they try to overrun government military installations.

“And that is a real cause for concern, especially if you overrun something like a chemical weapons base or something that has broader implications than just the Syrian theater,” he said.

Nations at the Friends of Syria meeting also are expected to discuss regional security implications of the conflict and efforts to mobilize aid for refugees caught in the humanitarian crisis.