George Sabra, the new head of the main Syrian opposition bloc in exile, the Syrian National Council, speaks to reporters during a press conference on the sidelines of the General Assembly of the Syrian National Council meeting in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. Sabra struck a combative tone Saturday, saying international inaction rather than divisions among anti-regime groups are to blame for the inability to end the bloodshed in Syria. (AP Photo/Osama Faisal)
By ABDULLAH REBHY | Associated Press
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Syrian anti-government groups struck a deal Sunday under intense international pressure to form a new opposition leadership that will include representatives from the country’s disparate factions fighting to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime, activists said.
The opposition has been deeply divided for months despite the relentless bloodshed in Syria and repeated calls from their Western and Arab supporters to create a cohesive and representative leadership that could present a single conduit for foreign aid. The agreement, reached Sunday after more than a week of meetings in the Qatari capital of Doha, could boost efforts to secure international support — and potentially weapons — that will be crucial in the war to oust Assad.
“We have agreed on the broad platform and all (opposition) parties, without any exception, are supporting this initiative,” said Ali Sadr el-Din Bayanouni, a former Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader who took part in the talks.
He said the new leadership will be called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Opposition delegates in Doha were expected to vote on the new leadership’s president later Sunday.
In a bid to be more representative and curb the influence of exiles considered out of touch with events on the ground, the new coalition will include activists from inside Syria as well as rebel commanders.
It will also include representatives from the largest current opposition group, the Syrian National Council, which initially resisted the idea of a new leadership council, viewing it as a threat to its claim of primacy. After some wrangling, the SNC secured 22 of the 60 seats in the new coalition.
SNC secretary-general Bassam Ishak said the new leadership was “an important and positive move forward.”
“This new body will help up mobilize more international support and resources for the Syrian opposition,” he said.
Another SNC member, Wael Merza, said the new group had the support of major regional backers including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, which can open up “new channels for funding.”
He said the SNC will retain its independence as a group, but will also fully back the wider opposition coalition.
The SNC was formed last year but quickly came to be viewed as ineffective and out of touch with activists and rebels fighting a bloody war on the ground.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton harshly criticized the SNC late last month and called for a leadership that can rally broader support, including inside Syria.
According to a draft of the agreement to form the new coalition, a transitional government will be formed after the coalition wins international approval. The coalition will also call for a national conference once Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is removed from power.
After the conference, the coalition and transitional government will be dissolved.
All opposition groups and figures taking part in the Doha meeting rejected any kind of dialogue with Assad’s regime.
The Syrian government has dismissed the meetings in Doha, and Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi called them political folly. In an interview on state-run Syrian TV aired late Friday, al-Zoubi said those who “meet in hotels” abroad are “deluding themselves” if they think they can overthrow the government.
The uprising against Assad began in March 2011 with peaceful protests, inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions in the Middle East. But a regime crackdown prompted fierce fighting, propelling the conflict into a civil war that has taken on sectarian overtones. In all, activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel fired a guided missile into Syria on Sunday in a potent “warning shot” after mortar fire from fighting between Syrian troops and rebels hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for the second time in four days.
By Dan Williams | Reuters
Israel Radio said it was the first direct engagement of the Syrian military on the Golan since the countries’ 1973 war. It highlighted international fears that Syria’s civil war could ignite wider regional conflict.
An Israeli military source said troops fired a Tammuz missile towards a Syrian army mortar crew that had launched a shell which overshot the Golan disengagement fence on Sunday, exploding near a Jewish settlement without causing casualties.
The missile, known internationally as Spike, can be guided to its target by an operator who sees a live video image from an onboard camera in its nose. There were no reported casualties in what was evidently a demonstration of fire-power.
In an official statement, the Israeli military said soldiers had “fired warning shots towards Syrian areas” but did not mention the missile or its target destination.
“The IDF (Israel Defence Force) has filed a complaint through the UN forces operating in the area, stating that fire emanating from Syria into Israel will not be tolerated and shall be responded to with severity,” the statement said.
There was no immediate comment from the 1,000-man United Nations Disengagement Observer Force which patrols the area, and no reaction from Syria.
Spillover violence this month from Syria onto the Golan has jangled the nerves of Israelis worried the once-quiet front will add to threats facing the Jewish state from Islamic militants in neighboring Lebanon, Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai.
There have been similar worries in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon about incidents on their own borders with Syria, where forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been battling rebels for 19 months.
“WE WILL RESPOND”
Interviewed by Israel’s Army Radio earlier on Sunday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak was asked about public warnings he and another senior official issued to Assad last week to rein in Syrian sweeps against rebels near the Golan.
“The message has certainly been relayed. To tell you confidently that no shell will fall? I cannot. If a shell falls, we will respond,” Barak said, without elaborating.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also speaking before Sunday’s mortar strike on the Golan, told his cabinet Israel was “closely following what is happening on our border with Syria .. and (is) prepared for any development”.
Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed the strategic plateau in 1981, a move not recognized internationally. In all past peace talks with Israel, Syria has insisted on the Golan’s return.
The two countries signed a disengagement agreement in 1974, a year after another Arab-Israeli conflict, and though they are still technically at war the Golan had been mostly quiet since.
Another Syrian mortar bomb, one of a salvo, struck a Golan settlement on Thursday but did not explode.
Separately, Israel complained to the United Nations this month after three Syrian tanks entered the Golan demilitarized zone, and said one of its army jeeps had been hit by Syrian gunfire. No one was hurt.
Israel has tried to stay out of the insurgency next door, reluctant to be drawn into another war and unclear about whether a post-Assad Syria might prove more hostile.
But Barak has said he hopes the rebels will win, Assad will fall and “a new stage in the life of Syria will begin”.
Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, warned troops on the Golan Heights a week ago: “This is a Syrian issue that could become our issue.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Sophie Hares)