Syria Live Coverage: New Opposition Leadership Named — Now What?

Monday, November 12, 2012 at 9:00 | Scott Lucas in EA Live, EA Middle East and Turkey, Middle East and Iran / See also Sunday’s Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: New Opposition Coalition Formed “In Principle

0615 GMT: Syria. After almost a week of meetings, opposition groups gathering in Qatar have named the leadership of a new Syrian National Coalition. A leading Sunni cleric from Damascus, Mouaz al-Khatib — imprisoned several times by the Assad regime before leaving Syria in July — was named as President.

Al-Khatib’s deputies are Riad Seif, a prominent dissident seen as a leader of the US-backed initiative to set up an umbrella group supplanting the Syrian National Council, and Suhair al-Atassi, one of the relatively few women in the Initiative. Participants said a third deputy, from Kurdish groups, might be named.

Khatib, the former imam of the ancient Umayyad Mosque, called on soldiers to quit the Syrian army and on all sects to unite, “We demand freedom for every Sunni, Alawi, Ismaili [Shia], Christian, Druze, Assyrian … and rights for all parts of the harmonious Syrian people.”

The Syrian National Council, after hesitating earlier in the week, offered its support for the new organisation. Its new leader, George Sabra, said “This is a serious step against the regime and a serious step towards freedom.”

The Kurdish National Council asked for 48 hours to consult leaders outside of Qatar.International actors moved quickly to offer support. Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani said, “We will strive from now on to have this new body recognised completely by all parties … as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.” Ahmed Davutoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, said there was “no excuse any more” for foreign governments to hold back their co-ooperation.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius declared, “France will work with its partners to secure international recognition of this new entity as the representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people.”

Participants in the Initiative said it will organise a provisional government within the next two months before moving to the north of Syria and calling for  a humanitarian corridor and no-fly zone backed by the international community.