Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movements within the Syrian opposition, ahead of a second meeting of the 'Friends of Syria'

 Syrian refugees on the march. The United Nations estimates that there are now some 230,000 Syrian refugees who have been fleeing thye fighting or have been made homeless. Some 30,000 of them have fled abroad.(AFP)

Syria's rebel fighters on Saturday set up a military council to unify their ranks. The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it had merged with a unit led by the most senior army deserter, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, to form a united military council. Speaking from Turkey, FSA chief Riad al-Asaad told AFP in Beirut that the new military council "is a step towards guaranteeing the unity of the troops and armed forces (of the opposition) on Syrian territory."  Al-Sheikh would chair the council, an FSA statement said, while a lieutenant from his unit said that Asaad would be in charge of military operations.
The main political opposition group, the Syrian National Council, invited all factions seeking to topple the Assad regime to meet in Turkey on Monday to hammer out a "national pact" of common objectives. The SNC said in a statement that the aim of the two-day meeting in Istanbul was to produce a "National Pact for a New Syria."  The announcement by the opposition came ahead of the second "Friends of Syria" conference, which world powers are due to attend on April 1 in Istanbul.
The SNC has been weakened  by the fact that three prominent, long standing activists left the Council on 14 March. One of them, Kamal al-Labwani wrote on Fikra Forum that the Syrian revolution has been hijacked by religious forces (by which presumably he means the Muslim Brotherhood) and that, one year after it began, it is time for the revolution to reorganise and create a non-partisan, organized armed struggle: 
We, a group of non-partisan activists writing from within Syria, seek to properly reproduce the political representation in a balanced way that is in line with internal concerns through the establishment of a Transitional National Assembly (TNA). This assembly will adopt a constitutional declaration that will define the powers and functions of the opposition to organize them and determine the new identity of the state and its future system. We also seek to elect a General Secretariat of the Assembly to oversee the formation of a Government in Exile to represent the executive authority, which is responsible for organizing all local and external events abroad and is accountable and monitored by the Transitional National Assembly (TNA).
 We submit this request to the Friends of Syria as a clear plan to bring down the current system by adopting an organized armed struggle that is national and non-partisan, with financial, logistical and political support of friends. We are also presenting a general plan for the interim period, including preparation to face the immediate concerns that will impose themselves on the morning of the fall of the regime in terms of constitutional, political, security, economic, and humanitarian issues.
On the ground fighting continued. At least 28 civilians were killed nationwide, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. Saturday's death toll also included 16 soldiers and two deserters. Syrian army pounded the central Homs and Hama with mortars. The Observatory reported at least 10 civilians deaths in Homs alone. Troops backed by 26 tanks also stormed Saraqeb in the northwestern province of Idlib. The army also used mortars to pound the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in the central province of Hama, which troops have been trying to seize for the past two weeks, the Observatory said.
International envoy Kofi Annan meanwhile travelled to Russia to shore up backing from President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov amid signs of waning Moscow support for Assad.
Annan is meeting the Russian officials on Sunday.  On Tuesday and Wednesday he will be visiting China.
His visit comes days after Moscow backed a non-binding Security Council statement in support of the initiative after making sure it contained no implicit threat of further action should Assad fail to comply.

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