CAIRO — Members of the newly elected Syrian opposition umbrella group are meeting Monday with Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo to discuss plans for further international support in ousting embattled President Bashar al-Assad. U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi also is due to address the League.
A new opposition council was elected overnight in the Qatari capital, Doha. Islamic cleric Maath al-Khatib, a former imam at Damascus' venerable Umayyad Mosque, was chosen to head the group. Addressing the gathering, he explains his next move:
Al-Khatib said the first act of the new council will be to meet the head of the Arab League in Cairo and to work out a legal formula to recognize this group as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Al-Khatib is to be accompanied on his visit by Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabir Al Thani, whose government hosted the marathon four-day talks that culminated in Sunday's agreement.
Veteran Syrian dissident Riad Seif, who devised the plan for a new opposition group, and whom many thought would be chosen to head it, said that foreign states have pledged to recognize the new entity.
Seif said there is a clear [international] promise for the first time to support the rebels in their quest to defend the Syrian people against regime warplanes, heavy artillery and tanks.
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, said the new council aims to provide a moderate face of the opposition to win international support.
Diab said the new alliance was formed in response to international pressure to reorganize the opposition. He said that some foreign states may want the new council to talk to the Assad regime, but he doubted that would happen. The new leadership, he said, symbolically includes a moderate Sunni cleric and a leftist Christian, to gain more international support.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, on the social media network Twitter, urged the new opposition council to hold talks with Syria's government. Russia, along with Iran, are main outside backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In Syria on Monday, a crowd of onlookers gathers around victims of a bombing by a government warplane of the border town of Ras al-Ain. Amateur video shows a billowing cloud of smoke over the town, as residents shout that a warplane may have dropped a barrel-bomb, stuffed with explosives.
Rebel fighters captured the mostly Kurdish town along the Turkish border several days ago, after defeating government troops and Kurdish fighters. Unconfirmed reports say that Kurdish leaders had urged the rebels not to occupy the town to avoid government retaliation.
Elsewhere, dozens of artillery shells pounded Damascus' Tadamon district, igniting fires and spewing black and grey clouds of smoke into a rainy sky. Arab satellite channels reported that the government's Fourth Brigade brought in tanks to shell the area.
Heavy government artillery barrages and aerial bombardments also were reported over the eastern part of Syria. Amateur videos showed mosques and other buildings reduced to rubble. The rebels claimed to have downed a government helicopter in a video showing the flaming hulk of a chopper.
Also Monday, the Israeli military said one of its tanks fired into Syria scored "direct hits" against Syrian mobile artillery in response to a Syrian mortar shell that struck the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. It was the second time in two days that Israel has responded to what it said was errant Syrian fire.