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

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid