Syria opposition unites, elects cleric as new leader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 4:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 4:30am

Syrian opposition factions which agreed on Sunday in Qatar to form a new coalition to fight President Bashar al-Assad have elected cleric Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib to head the bloc, dissidents 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.

The SNC had come under intense Arab and Western pressure to accept the unity plan amid growing frustration among other groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The inked agreement stipulates that the bloc will be open to all factions, and will form a provisional government after gaining international recognition.

It will also support the unification of the revolutionary military councils, and will work for the fall of the regime and to dismantle the security organs, while ruling out any dialogue with the Damascus regime.

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab who defected in August hailed the agreement as “an advanced step towards toppling the regime.”

Khatib had served in the past as the imam of the central Umayyad mosque in the Syrian capital before he was banned from leading prayers. He was arrested last year and this year over supporting the uprising before he left the country.

He is seen as an independent opponent without belonging to any political groups, and is not linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist party.

Atassi comes from the central flashpoint city of Homs, and belongs to a family that has been active in the secular opposition. She is not a member of the SNC.

In addition, Mustafa Sabbagh was elected as a secretary general of the coalition.

Meanwhile, the post of a third vice president will remain vacant for a Kurdish figure to be elected. Seif told Agence France-Presse the post is allocated to the Kurds, who have asked to postpone the vote.