News / Middle East

Syria Opposition Meets to Find Leader, Show Readiness for Arms

Mustafa Sabbagh (L), Secretary-General of the Syrian National Coalition, and  Burhan Ghalioun (R), former President of Syrian National Council, attend a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, July 4, 2013.
Mustafa Sabbagh (L), Secretary-General of the Syrian National Coalition, and Burhan Ghalioun (R), former President of Syrian National Council, attend a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, July 4, 2013.
Reuters
Syria's fractious opposition coalition met on Thursday under pressure to name a new leader and prove to its Western and Arab backers it can be trusted with advanced weapons to beat back a concerted offensive by President Bashar al-Assad.
 
The opposition's inability to unite has made Western countries reluctant to send weapons, even as Assad's forces have seized the initiative in recent months and Washington and its European allies have vowed to aid his enemies.
 
Rebels are under siege in the strategic city of Homs and trying to hold on to swaths of territory across the country, while the opposition in exile has been unable to exert authority on the ground and halt strides toward radical Islamism.
 
The Syrian National Coalition has been without a leader for months after its head quit over disagreement about potential talks with Assad's government. It aims to agree on a new unified leadership at its talks in Istanbul.
 
Coalition insiders say its international backers want to avoid a repeat of a near debacle a month ago when last-minute intervention by senior officials from Turkey and Western and Arab countries was needed to keep it from disintegrating.
 
A new leadership for the body of mainly exiled politicians will also need to show that it can forge stronger links with the activists and rebel fighters inside Syria, the sources said.
 
Senior opposition figures met overnight to agree on a deal that would satisfy the three main players in the coalition: the Muslim Brotherhood, the only organized faction in the political opposition, a Saudi-backed bloc and a wing loyal to secretary general Mustafa Sabbagh, a businessman seen as Qatar's pointman.
 
Possible candidates to lead the opposition include Ahmad Jarba, a tribal figure well connected with Saudi Arabia, and Sabbagh himself.
 
Sources at the meeting said possible consensus candidates included Ahmed Tumeh al-Khader a veteran opposition figure, and Burhan Ghalioun, a professor based in Paris.
 
Boosting rebel command
 
Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, July 4, 2013.Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, July 4, 2013.
x
Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, July 4, 2013.
Destroyed buildings are seen on a deserted street in the besieged area of Homs, Syria, July 4, 2013.
More than two years into a war that has killed more than 90,000 people, momentum has shifted in recent months in favor of Assad, especially since he gained the support of fighters from the seasoned Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
 
Western countries opposed to Assad were predicting at the end of last year that the Syrian leader's days were numbered. But they now fear for the survival of the rebellion after Hezbollah fighters helped capture the rebel-held town of Qusair.
 
The West has had to balance its desire to aid the rebels with its worry that the rebellion has become dominated by militant Sunni Islamists, including groups allied to al Qaeda.
 
A senior opposition source in contact with U.S. officials said Washington, as well as French security operatives, were concentrating on supporting rebel units in the province of Aleppo on the border with Turkey, where new anti-tank missiles are helping reverse the military tide.
 
“I think we will be hearing good news from Aleppo soon. No one wants to repeat the weakness in logistics that allowed Hezbollah to take over Qusair and paved the way for the offensive on Homs,” the source said.
 
Saudi Arabia has assumed a central role in backing the opposition and has begun limited delivery of sophisticated weapons to the rebels, with the United States playing a bigger role than before in supervising such shipments to keep weapons out of Islamist hands, diplomats in the region say.
 
“The Americans will have the final say on Saudi support. On the surface, U.S. military pledges are minimal, but indirectly, Washington's role is big,” a Western diplomat said.
 
At the core of Western and Saudi strategy is boosting the Supreme Military Council, a centralized rebel command structure led by defectors from the Syrian army, to claw back Assad's advances and create a counterbalance to militant Islamists.
 
Kamal al-Labwani, a senior member of a liberal bloc of the coalition, said that the opposition has started to build up its military capability through the Supreme Military Council but  Islamists still dominate the battlefield. He said he expected an increase in weapons shipments to rebels, dismissing U.S. and Russian plans for a peace conference, known as Geneva 2.
 
Washington and Moscow, Cold War foes supporting the opposing sides, announced plans for the peace conference in May but never agreed a date for it. Their relations have deteriorated rapidly as momentum on the battlefield swung in favor of Assad and Washington committed to aid the rebels.
 
“Geneva 2 is preparation for more war," Labwani said. "Does anyone seriously think Assad would give up power to a transitional government that would order the army to take its tanks from the streets, release tens of thousands of prisoners and allow demonstrations?”
 
The rebels have been receiving light arms from Saudi Arabia and Qatar for many months, but say they need more sophisticated weapons to defeat Assad, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to counter the government's big air power advantage.
 
The West is wary, because such missiles could be used by militants to threaten civil aviation. Diplomats said the United States is overseeing delivery of Saudi weapons after concern that shoulder-fired missiles sent by Qatar may have been delivered to jihadist fighters.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid