News / Middle East

    Syrian Opposition Shake-Up Falters Ahead of Conference

    Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.
    x
    Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.
    Louay al-Safi, Syrian National Coalition spokesman, left, addressing news conference, Istanbul, May 26, 2013.
    Reuters
    A crisis in Syria's opposition deepened on Monday when liberals were offered only token representation, undermining international efforts to lend the Islamist-dominated alliance greater support.
     
    To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian National Coalition thwarted a deal to admit a liberal bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo.
     
    The failure to broaden the coalition, in which Qatar and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood has been playing the driving role, could undermine Saudi Arabian support for the revolt and raise the specter of a rivalry among Gulf powers that could further weaken the opposition.
     
    Its Western backers have pressured the Coalition to resolve its divisions and expand to include more liberals to counter domination by Islamists. The plan also had support from Saudi Arabia, which had been preparing to assume a bigger role in coalition politics and has been uneasy about the rise of Qatar's influence, coalition insiders said.
     
    Its apparent failure to do so came hours before the European Union was scheduled at a meeting in Brussels to discuss lifting an arms embargo that could allow weapons to reach rebel fighters in Syria seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
     
    The disarray also threatens to strengthen Assad's hand ahead of an international peace conference backed by the United States and Russia, planned to be held in Geneva in the coming weeks.
     
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were due to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss that planned conference.
     
    Kilo's group received an offer of only five seats — instead of the more than 20 it had been looking for — after a session in Turkey that stretched nearly to dawn, coalition sources said.
     
    The move left the Coalition controlled by a faction loyal to Qatari-backed Secretary-General Mustafa al-Sabbagh, and a bloc largely influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. That group led resistance to the rule of Assad's late father in the 1980s, when thousands of its members were tortured and executed.
     
    "We were talking about 25 names as the basis for our negotiations, then there was agreement on 22 and then the number dropped to 20, then to 18, then to 15, then to five," Kilo said, addressing the Coalition.
     
    "I do not think you have a desire to cooperate and hold our extended hand," he said. "We wish you all the best."
     
    A member of the Kilo camp said his bloc would meet later to decide whether to withdraw from the opposition meeting, although he said the coalition may still make a better offer.
     
    Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh described the outcome as "democratic'' but said the Coalition could discuss the expansion issue further.
     
    Saudi sidelined

    With Lebanese Shi'ite guerrillas from Iranian-backed Hezbollah now openly fighting alongside government troops in Syria, Saudi Arabia is keen to play a greater role in backing the Sunni-led opposition, opposition sources have said.
     
    Significant expansion of the 60-member Coalition would have diluted the influence of Qatar, the other main Arab player backing the revolt against Assad.
     
    Coalition members who had campaigned for an organizational shake-up said the feeble offer to Kilo's bloc was an affront to Riyadh and would make Saudi Arabia balk at backing the opposition more forcefully.
     
    "The only time the Saudis ask for something substantive from the opposition we turn them down," a coalition source said.
     
    "Saudi Arabia before this meeting was on the verge of throwing its weight behind the revolt. It would have made sense for Qatar to take a role in line with its size and let Saudi Arabia take a lead role. Sabbagh, and apparently Qatar, got their way, but at what expense?"
     
    Sabbagh, who has played a main role in channeling money for aid and military supplies into Syria, has been resisting a Saudi-supported plan to add members to the Coalition, opposition sources said.
     
    "Sabbagh has been told by Qatar that the Saudis are brothers and he should compromise. But he is a Syrian first and he will put the interest of the national opposition above everything," an ally of Sabbagh in the Coalition said.
     
    The Coalition's meeting in Istanbul has been extended by two days to discuss the Geneva conference and a new leadership, including the fate of provisional Prime Minister Ghassan Hitto, who has not been able to form a provisional government in exile since being appointed on March 19.
     
    The Coalition has been rudderless since the resignation of Moaz AlKhatib, a cleric who had floated two initiatives for Assad to leave power peacefully.

    You May Like

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.