Syrian rebel groups sign coalition deal

November 12, 2012 - 4:49:56 am

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani addressing the media after the signing of a unity deal by Syrian opposition groups in Doha yesterday. He called on the international community to recognise the new umbrella group.

DOHA: The Syrian opposition struck a hard-won deal yesterday on a new structure to combat President Bashar 

Al Assad, as clashes on the Golan prompted Israel’s first firing across the armistice line since 1973.

Participants in marathon talks in Qatar said the latest were centred on details of a planned new government-in-waiting, but that the Syrian National Council had now heeded Arab and Western calls to join a new, wider coalition.

Opposition factions which agreed yesterday to form a new coalition elected cleric Ahmed Moaz Al Khatib to head the bloc, a reporter said.

Khatib, a moderate originally from Damascus who quit Syria three months ago, will lead the National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition, formed after the Syrian National Council agreed to the new group.

Prominent dissident Riad Seif, who had tabled an initiative to unite the opposition, and female opposition figure Suhair Al Atassi, were elected as vice presidents of the coalition.

Reservations in SNC ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition’s Arab and Western supporters.

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister H E Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabor Al Thani praised a US-backed deal to set up a new Syrian opposition umbrella group and Turkey’s foreign minister said international backers of the uprising against Bashar Al Assad had no excuse not to back the group.

Qatar said yesterday the new umbrella group uniting opponents of Syrian President Bashar 

Al Assad inside and outside Syria should be recognised as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

“Trust us that 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,” Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem told reporters.

He said Qatar would lead discussions at the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, and with the United States and European allies, to win the group such recognition.

Negotiations at the meeting ran into the early hours of yesterday and resumed in the afternoon. 

“We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition,” said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the US-backed reform proposals on which yesterday’s agreement was based.

In a copy of the document obtained by a news agency, the parties “agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars,” and rule out any dialogue with the regime.

They agree to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas.

A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen.

The deal came after the SNC, which had formerly been seen as the main representative of the opposition, heeded Arab and Western pressure to agree to a new structure embracing groups that had been unwilling to join its ranks. Former prime minister Riad Hijab, who fled to neighbouring Jordan in August in the highest-ranking defection from Assad’s government, hailed the agreement as “an advanced step towards toppling the regime.” There had been mounting diplomatic pressure on the opposition for an overhaul amid US-led accusations the SNC had lost touch with civilian activists and rebels inside Syria and become little more than a talking shop for exiles.

International concern had been further raised by fears of a spillover of the conflict as fighting raged on Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey as well as on the armistice line with the Israeli-occupied Golan. 

The Israeli army said a mortar round fired from the Syrian side had hit one of its positions on the Golan, prompting the riposte from its troops.