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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs