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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults 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.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid