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

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora