News / Middle East

Syria Opposition Chooses US Technocrat to Lead Revolution

A Syrian-American gave up Texas career to manage humanitarian aid in war-torn homeland. As prime minister, he will build shadow government in war zone.

Syrian opposition chairman Sheikh Moaz Al-Khatib (left) congratulates the Coalition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto (right), as other coalition members look on at the end of a long one-day election Monday night in Istanbul (AP)
Syrian opposition chairman Sheikh Moaz Al-Khatib (left) congratulates the Coalition’s newly elected interim prime minister, Ghassan Hitto (right), as other coalition members look on at the end of a long one-day election Monday night in Istanbul (AP)
David Arnold

The newly elected leader of Syria’s political opposition is a naturalized U.S. citizen who gave up a career in business and Internet technology in Texas to join an uprising to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power in Damascus.

Ghassan Hitto, 50, moved to Turkey last year. When the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces was created five months ago in Doha, he joined forces with democracy advocate and coalition co-chair, Suhair Atassi, who presides over the Coalition’s Aid Coordination Unit (ACU).

Together, they pushed for coordinated delivery of humanitarian aid from the United States and other members of the Friends of the People of Syria group to thousands of Syrians in rebel-held areas.

Hitto was narrowly elected interim prime minister with 35 votes in the Coalition’s general assembly late Monday. His nearest competitor was a former Syrian minister of agriculture who got 32 votes.

The opposition Coalition charged him to set up a provisional government inside Syria even as the battles with government forces grow more violent by the day. After being elected, Hitto ruled out any negotiations with the Assad government in Damascus.

Hitto is expected to appoint a cabinet – subject to the approval of the Coalition – for a provisional government that will extend emergency relief services and financial support to civic councils that have sprung up in rebel-held communities. The first priorities are to restore electricity, water, sanitation services and basic police and court systems.

How Hitto became prime minister


Hitto grew up in Damascus and moved to the United States to attend college. He is of Kurdish descent. His 25-year-old son, Obaida, left the family home last June to join Syria’s revolution and produce videos and photographs for opposition media services during fierce fighting in the eastern city of Deir Azzour.

“Obaida, bless his heart, made up his mind,” Hitto told the New York Times in October. A short time later, he decided to join his son in working for the Syrian opposition.

In Turkey, where the Syrian opposition has based much of its field and administrative operations, the senior Hitto gained respect among anti-Assad officials for facilitating a Joint Rapid Assessment in North Syria survey with the U.S. Office of Disaster Assistance, the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development and others.

The assessment revealed far greater assistance needs than the U.N. expected. Hitto’s agency identified more than 3.4 million Syrians in dire need of assistance in parts of the six northern and eastern provinces.
 

Hitto’s unit has worked closely with the U.S. government and its several non-government humanitarian services contractors to meet needs in Syria’s rebel-held areas. The Aid Coordination Unit is expected to help allocate future funding, including $63 million in U.S. assistance expected to arrive shortly.
 

The Assad regime and his forces, they have been bombing the infrastructure with intent

Estimating the need, blaming Assad

In a recent interview with Voice of America, Hitto spoke of humanitarian needs on both sides of the war. He blamed the Assad government, however, for causing most of the suffering.

"The Assad regime and his forces, they have been bombing the infrastructure with intent” and are “destroying power, water, sanitation, refuse collection and public health services “in any of the cities that are under attack,” Hitto said.

“We are coming into a summer now where there are cities that have been filled with trash …,” he said. “We are concerned about diseases being spread in the coming months …”

Hitto also cited a U.N. estimate that just over 10 percent of the humanitarian needs in Syria are being met.

“I think to cover one year of basic relief and basic necessities, we’re talking about three to five billion dollars.”

Pushing the Security Council

“The issue is there isn’t enough aid to make the impact we would all like to see,” Hitto said. “Right now the amount of aid that is going to the Syrian people doesn’t satisfy the current need of the Syrian people. It doesn’t even come close.”

The United Nations is hampered in its aid projects, Hitto said, because it can operate only in areas under government control.

 

I think to cover one year of basic relief and basic necessities, we’re talking about three to five billion dollars
“Today there isn’t a cross-border operation where the United Nations is able to operate from all borders,” he said. “We’re asking the international community to push the U.N. and the Security Council to establish a cross-border operation which requires an agreement with the regime.”

“I don’t know if permission from Bashar al-Assad is required here,” he said, but “whether Bashar al-Assad agrees to the cross-border operations or not, you are looking at half of the population of the north that needs aid and this aid is not coming through.

“And we are not going to wait, the war will not wait until Bashar Al-Assad says it’s okay,” Hitto said.
  • Gas cylinders are displayed for sale on a street in Aleppo, March 24, 2013.
  • A man sells clothes in Aleppo March 24, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters carry weapons while walking down a debris-filled street in Aleppo March 19, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by the Aleppo Media Center shows Syrians searching for dead bodies in the rubble of buildings hit by Syrian airstrikes, Aleppo, March 20, 2013.
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma visit families of students killed during clashes between forces loyal to him and their opponents in Damascus in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA on March 20, 2013.
  • Residents and medics transport a Syrian Army soldier, wounded in what they said was a chemical weapon attack near Aleppo, to a hospital, March 19, 2013.
  • People wounded in what the Syrian government said was a chemical weapons attack breathe through oxygen masks as they are treated at a hospital in Aleppo, March 19, 2013.
  • Girls paint their faces with colors of the Syrian revolutionary flag during a fesitval, in Aleppo, Syria, March 20, 2013.
  • A citizen journalism image of black smoke rising from a building hit by Syrian government shelling, Aleppo, March 19, 2013.

You May Like

FIFA Indictments Put Gold Cup Tournament Under Cloud

Experts say US indictments could lead to charges of other world soccer officials, and lead to major shakeup in sport's governance More

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

At a recent even in Seoul, border communities promoted benefits of increased cooperation and North Korean defectors shared stories of life since the war More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs