Monday 2 July 2012
Syrian Uprising 2011 Information Centre: HASAKAH (02/07/2012): Large funeral for the martyr Khaled al-Maddad in al-Hasakah city in North East Syria, he was shot at a protest on 27/06/2012 and died yesterday. We don’t talk about the NE enough, mostly because it’s cities have so far mostly been spared the atrocities we have seen in so many other places. Nevertheless, anyone who checks our maps will see that protests are increasing in frequency and becoming more widespread. The FSA also seems to be increasingly active, especially in the south of the province.
The fascist Syrian regime has adopted a systematic approach of hounding and detaining members of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, in an attempt to stop the NCB from fulfilling its duties as part of the popular uprising. On 30/6/2012, Adnan Al-Dibs, an activist and leading member of the Communist Action Party, and the NCB, was detained by the Syrian authorities. This occurred only 2 days after they detained a member of the executive board of the NCB, Dr. Ibrahim Fadel Bish. They are both to join another member of the NCB, the activist Constantine Hallal, who was arbitrarily detained by Syrian security services more than 2 weeks ago on 14/6/2012. They all join the thousands of prisoners of conscience in the detention centres and basements of the oppressive regime, their fate is unknown.
Seven members of the NCB delegation to the Cairo conference have been refused exit from the country, they were told to appear at the airforce intelligence branch – A branch of the mukhabarat-.
We condemn the arrest of our cadre and hold the Syrian authorities fully responsible for their safety and well being. We demand the disclosure of their fate and that they be released immediately.
We at the National Coordination Body condone the inhuman and irresponsible acts of the security services. We respond to their actions by saying: Arresting our members and threatening us will not hinder our work for the Syrian people’s revolution for freedom and dignity.
Freedom For Ibrahim, Adnan and Costantine! Freedom for all political prisoners in the prisons of this oppressive regime! Freedom for Syria!
Press Office, National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria
Reef Dimashq province: The town of Hamouriya is being bombarded by tanks and heavy machineguns, several explosions were heard inside the city. Reports indicate that 4 people were killed by the heavy bombardment on the town of Irbin. In the city of Dareyya 4 civilians were killed by the heavy bombardment on the city.
33 civilians killed, and documented by name and reason of death, in Syria so far today (Monday 2/7/2012)
28 unarmed civilians:
-In Reef Dimashq 5 civilians were killed. 1 civilian was killed by excessive torture after being detained from the town of al-Tal. 3 civilians were killed in the city of Douma, which has been stormed by Syrian troops. 1 civilian was killed by a regime sniper in Ma’adamiya.
-In Deir Izzor province 3 were killed. All 3 civilians were killed in the city of Deir Izzor: 1 civilian was killed by a sniper in the Huweika neighbourhood, 1 was killed by a rocket in Sheikh Yassin, 1 civilian was killed by gunfire in the neighbourhood of al-Joura.
-In Dera’a 7 were killed. They were killed in Tafs, 1 was killed by excessive torture, 2 weeks after his detention. 1 was killed by the random fire. 5 civilians, including a woman, were killed when a rocket fell on their car.
-In Hama province 2 civilians were killed. 1 was killed by wounds he received during the bombardment of Tibat al-Imam, Reef Hama. 1 civilian was killed by regime forces in the town of Aqrab, Reef Hama.
-In Aleppo province 4 civilians were killed. An activist was killed by the bombardment of Tel Rif’at. 2 civilians were killed by the regime bombardment of A’zaz. 1 civilian was killed in the town of Sanjar, the circumstances of his death remains unknown.
-In Idlib province 2 civilians were killed. A woman was martyred when a rocket fell on her house in Saraqib, Reef Idlib. The body of a killed civilian was found in the city of Idlib.
-In Homs 5 civilians were killed. 2 were killed by the bombardment of Rastan, Reef Homs. 1 civilian was killed by a sniper on the Damascus-Homs road. 2 civilians were killed by regime fire in the neighbourhoods of Kafar’aya and Bab Houd.
5 Armed Rebels Killed:
-Deir Izzor: 4 rebel fighters died when a rocket fell on their car by the public park in the city of Deir Izzor.
-Dera’a province: A rebel fighter, from Dera’a, was killed in Homs.
15 decomposed bodies were found in the Deir Ba’alba neighbourhood of Homs.
Reports indicate that 15 civilians were killed in the village of Douma, Reef Hama. they were allegedly killed by a group from a neighbouring pro-regime village, after 3 shabiha (pro-regime thugs) from the latter village were killed.
[local time] 22:30 Eighty-five Syrian soldiers, including a general, defected on Monday from the army and fled to Turkey, AFP reported.
22:18 Weapons supplied to the Syrian government and opposition are escalating the conflict, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said Monday.
22:12 The Syrian army kept up its bombardment of rebel neighborhoods of the central city of Homs on Monday, a watchdog said, while violence killed at least 30 people across the country.
22:12 Russia believes it has exact positional data to prove that a Turkish air force jet shot down by Syria last month violated Syrian airspace, contrary to claims by Ankara, a report said Monday.
18:02 NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday called on the international community to enforce a political solution in Syria while reiterating there would be no military intervention.
17:49 Saudi Arabia on Monday called on the international community to take “decisive measures” to end the spiraling bloodshed in Syria, a cabinet statement said.
17:27 Cyprus said Monday after taking up the rotating EU presidency that it was concerned over Turkey’s attitude to events in Syria but would continue to work with Ankara over the conflict.
16:31 Syria’s Monday death toll increased to 73 people killed by security forces, Al-Arabiya quoted activists as saying.
15:42 Two people were killed and others injured in the shelling of Aleppo’s Aazaz and Tal Refaat, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
15:41 Syrian forces shelled the Latakia town of Salma, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
15:19 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued three new “counter-terrorism” laws on Monday, the official SANA news agency said, 16 months into a deadly crackdown on an uprising against his rule.
14:31 Syria’s main exiled opposition groups met in Cairo Monday to try to forge a common vision for a political transition in Syria after criticizing a blueprint agreed by the major powers last week in a compromise with China and Russia.
14:08 Monday’s death toll in Syria reached 51 people, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
13:58 More than 16,500 people have been killed in violence since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out in March last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday.
13:46 Syrian security forces killed 30 people on Monday, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying.
13:41 Causalities were reported in the shelling of Mesraba and Hammouriya in the Damascus district, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Monday.
13:28 Activists say Syrian forces shelled Daraa on Monday, Al-Jazeera reported.
11:00 Syria-based rebel fighters and activists said they would boycott an opposition meeting in Cairo on Monday, denouncing it as a “conspiracy” that served the policy goals of Damascus’ allies Moscow and Tehran.
10:44 An explosion rocked Homs’ central prison, Al-Jazeera quoted activists as saying on Monday.
9:40 Shabiha militants killed at least 15 people in the town of Douma near Hama. (S.N.N.)
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has made an appeal for “further militarisation” of the conflict in Syria to be avoided “at all costs”.
Both government forces and the opposition have been “involved in actions harming civilians”, she said.
She also renewed her call for the UN Security Council to refer the conflict to the International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, 85 soldiers crossed the Turkish border and defected on Monday, Turkish state TV reports.
The soldiers included one general and several officers, Turkish media sources said.
The reports come after more than 30 Syrian soldiers, including a general, two colonels and two majors, were reported to have fled to Turkey and defected last week.
Tensions between the two countries have heightened since Syria shot down a Turkish fighter jet on 23 June.
Ms Pillay did not mention any countries by name in her remarks, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar are widely believed to be supplying arms to the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) and have been paying their salaries.
Russia and Iran have been accused of arming Syrian government forces.
Ms Pillay said government forces had attacked clinics, and that rebels had taken over at least one medical facility for military purposes, the BBC’s Barbara Plett reports from New York.
Ms Pillay also said there was a report of anti-government forces using children as human shields, our correspondent adds.
She also urged that the mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria be strengthened so it could effectively report on the human rights situation.
The Security Council is considering whether to downscale the mission, since the violence has made it impossible for it to operate.
Syrian helicopters bombarded a Damascus suburb on Monday and Turkey scrambled warplanes near the border in the north, as the U.N. human rights chief warned that arms supplies to both the government and rebels were deepening the 16-month conflict.
Fighting has come to the gates of the capital in recent weeks and is also raging throughout the country as the battle to unseat President Bashar al-Assad increasingly takes on the character of an all-out civil war, fuelled by sectarian hatred.
Syrian government forces have launched an assault on Douma, a city on the edge of Damascus where they stormed a rebel stronghold two days ago, leaving bodies rotting in the streets of the nearly abandoned town.
“The bombardment of Douma continued today using helicopters. Some activists entered the city today and they saw at least seven decaying bodies in the streets under the sun. One man had been executed inside his house,” said Mohamed Doumany, an activist who fled the city two days ago and was now nearby.
“There is huge destruction in the city, which is almost empty. Only a few of its people remain inside,” he told Reuters by Skype.
The bitterness of the struggle has seen the rebel ranks swollen by defections among troops. Dozens more, including a general, fled into Turkey on Monday, sources in the Free Syrian Army there said. Turkish media said 85 soldiers had deserted.
United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay decried the flow of weapons to both sides. “The ongoing provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence,” she said in the text of remarks made to the Security Council, obtained by Reuters. “Any further militarization of the conflict must be avoided at all costs.”
Pillay did not say where the weapons were coming from, though Russia and Iran are the government’s main suppliers. U.N. diplomats say Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been transferring arms to the increasingly militarized opposition while the United States says it is supplying only “non lethal” aid to the rebels.
Diplomats from the West and Arab states who oppose Assad met the Syrian leader’s allies Russia and China on Saturday in Geneva under the auspices of peace envoy Kofi Annan. However, they made no progress in persuading Moscow and Beijing to sign up to a statement calling for Assad to give up power, leaving the effort to forge an international consensus in tatters.
The failure of diplomacy to have any measurable effect on a conflict that the United Nations says has killed more than 13,000 people is testing the patience of countries in the region, especially Turkey, which reacted with fury 10 days ago when Syria shot down one of its warplanes.
Turkey said on Monday it had scrambled six F-16 fighters in response to three separate incidents of Syrian helicopters approaching the border. Turkey also scrambled fighters on Saturday and has moved guns and soldiers toward the frontier.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Syrian opposition figures gathered in Cairo that their struggle to unseat Assad would end in victory.
“The Assad regime’s guns, tanks, weapons have no meaning in the face of the will of the Syrian people. Sooner or later the will of the Syrian people shall reign supreme. And you will lead this process,” he said.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a former ally of Assad who has turned decisively against him, says Turkish military rules of engagement have been changed and any Syrian forces approaching the border and deemed threatening will be targeted.
The Syrian government tightly controls access, making it difficult to verify accounts of fighting on the ground.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen played down concerns about the military buildup by Turkey, a member of the alliance. Asked whether there was a risk it could lead to a confrontation with Syria, Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels: “No, on the contrary. I commend Turkey for having shown restraint despite the very tragic aircraft incident.”
“I find it quite normal that Turkey takes necessary steps to protect its population and its territory,” he said.
At the Cairo talks, Turkey and anti-Assad Arab states urged the divided opposition to unite and form a credible alternative to the government.
The unity calls were made at the opening of a two-day meeting organized by the Arab League to try to rally Syria’s opposition, which has been beset by in-fighting that diplomats say has made it tougher for the world to respond to the crisis.
“It is not acceptable to waste this opportunity in any way. The sacrifices of the Syrian people are bigger than us all and more precious than any differences or individual and party interests,” Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said, addressing the roughly 200 Syrian politicians and activists.
Diplomats and officials at the talks, which are being boycotted by the Free Syrian Army which is leading the armed struggle against Assad’s forces, said they did not expect a major agreement to emerge but hoped for some progress.
Anti-Assad activists said there were heavy clashes in Deir Ezzor province near the Iraqi border where villages were under army fire. Rebels destroyed two tanks, they said.
In rural areas near Aleppo south of the Turkish border there were clashes following explosions inside the city overnight. Forested areas near the border were on fire, activists said.
Syrian artillery pounded the village of Talbiseh near Homs on Monday, targeting an area near the mosque. Video footage posted on YouTube showed a blast hitting the mosque’s slender minaret, engulfing it in a cloud of grey smoke and dust.
Other footage showed high explosive rounds slamming into an unseen target behind the mosque every minute.
Security forces were also shelling towns in the province of Deraa, near the Jordan border, activists said.
(Additional reporting by Erika Solomon and Douglas Hamilton in Beirut, Jonathon Burch in Ankara, Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Antakya, Turkey, Yasmine Saleh and Edmund Blair in Cairo, Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations and Adrian Croft in Brussels; Writing by Peter Graff and David Stamp; Editing by Peter Millership and Alastair Macdonald)
There are few signs diplomacy can stem Syria’s worsening conflict, leaving Western leaders – and even more so their Arab and Turkish allies – pushed ever further towards backing Bashar al-Assad’s ouster by force.
In Geneva on Saturday, world powers attempted a vague show of unity by committing to support for a transitional government. But diplomats led by United Nations envoy Kofi Annan failed to bridge differences between the West and Russia – backed by China - on whether or not that meant that Syria’s president must go.
In any case, neither Assad’s government nor his various opponents have shown great interest in such an accord. Instead, both sides look to be digging in for a long, winner-takes-all struggle, ramping up the violence and turning to foreign sponsors in a confrontation that could last months, or years.
A meeting in Paris this coming Friday of the loose alliance known as the Friends of Syria is likely see the United States in particular come under greater pressure from Turkey and the Syrian opposition’s Arab allies – principally Saudi Arabia and the Gulf state of Qatar – to increase its help for the rebels.
Washington has long worried about the wisdom of backing Syria’s opposition, which it sees as ill-organized, disparate and much too close to al Qaeda-linked militants. It has limited aid to “non-lethal” equipment, such as radios. And, in an election year, the White House is anxious to avoid anything that may look like an Afghan-style, open-ended military intervention.
Yet it also acknowledges that some of its allies have opted to get more involved in actively support the rebel campaign.
“We’re concerned about pouring more weapons into an already over-militarized situation,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday. “We’ve made our decision.
“Other countries are making other decisions. Our goal now is trying to stay coordinated.”
Though public details on aid to the rebels are scant, U.S. officials say Saudi- and Qatari-funded weaponry is finding its way, mostly via Lebanon, into Syria, to be used against Assad, whose Alawite religion and alliance with Shi’ite Iran distance him from the Sunni Muslims who run most other Arab states.
Some fear foreign powers may simply be making things worse.
“The unfortunate truth is that it’s a very difficult situation and it’s hard to know where to go from here,” said Ari Ratner, a former State Department Middle East adviser to the Obama Administration and now a fellow at the Truman Project on National Security. “Other countries are being dragged into a proxy war … which may in itself help perpetuate the violence.”
On Monday, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay complained both sides were receiving more and more weapons, creating more violence – though she did not say who was sending them. Assad has bought much of his weaponry from longstanding ally Russia.
The Western powers remain publicly committed to other tools to weaken Assad’s grip on power – primarily financial sanctions.
U.S. officials say they hope Syria’s opposition will endorse the Geneva plan for sharing power with Assad loyalists when they meet in Paris on Friday, though for now opposition spokesman have been asking instead for weapons. Washington has flatly refused, although it says it cannot stop others from offering.
Compared to Assad’s forces – increasingly using not just tanks and armored vehicles but also artillery and attack helicopters – the Free Syrian Army remains desperately underequipped, capable of little more than hit and run attacks.
While they have fought on for months in pockets such as Homs, where they benefit from weapons smuggled across the border from Lebanon, they can still barely hold ground. Nor do they have many military options when government forces withdraw from opposition areas only to then pound them with artillery shells supplied from either Russia or Iran.
Yet for all the concern about contributing to further bloodshed, some who wish to see Assad gone see arming the rebels as a better option than simply waiting, or than any form of direct Libya-style campaign committing warplanes or even troops.
Turkish action in the past week – following the shooting down of a Turkish reconnaissance jet by Syrian air defenses – may be the clearest example yet of foreign action to redraw the lines of battle in favor of the rebels.
Last week, Turkey moved heavy artillery and anti-aircraft missiles up to its border with Syria, publicly warning Damascus that any forces which approached Turkish territory might be liable to attack.
The Assad government looks to have made occasional attempts to test Turkey’s resolve, but with Ankara scrambling fighter jets several times after Syrian helicopters approached its airspace, they have begun to pull forces back.
A Reuters correspondent of the border said that it appeared Assad’s ground forces had withdrawn some 30 km (20 miles) back into their own territory, although they were shelling presumed opposition areas only 8 km (5 miles) from the Turkish border.
Some opposition activists complain the Turkish action has actually made things worse, as areas once garrisoned with Syrian troops are now simply being bombarded.
Still, it has created something of a de facto buffer zone, increasing the freedom to maneuver of rebel fighters already operating from Turkey. With Syrian aircraft also likely to try to avoid attracting Turkish fire, some analysts say a de facto no-fly zone may also now effectively exist over the area.
Having sheltered leaders of the Free Syrian Army and allowed them to operate from its territory for months, Ankara now seems signaling much clearer support for the opposition.
“What we now have today is a regime who has strayed so far away from a basic sense of rationality,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu told a Syrian opposition meeting in Cairo on Monday.
“The only interlocutor for Turkey in Syria is now the Syrian people, … that is the Syrian opposition, which means you.”
That seems likely to mean that Ankara will let the Gulf Arab states increase shipments of military supplies to FSA forces based in Turkey. For the opposition, they are sorely needed.
Western intelligence and special forces operatives already believed to be operating in Turkey may also be pressured to provide much greater support. So far, officials in Washington in particular say their primary task has been less to assist the rebels and much more to find out who they are and whether it might ever be safe to work with them more closely.
GOING IN CIRCLES?
The uncertainties of taking action compare to an apparently growing certainty that diplomacy is making little progress.
“The wheels clearly are going in circles without moving forward,” said Hayat Alvi, lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at the U.S. Naval War College. “The proof is the Assad regime’s continuous acts of violence against the Syrian people, even while the diplomatic wheels have been turning.
“That will likely be the scenario for months to come.”
Western officials also appear to be shelving ambitions of persuading Vladimir Putin to abandon Assad. Having repeatedly embarrassed themselves by briefing that a major change in the Russian position was imminent, there seems a growing acceptance that – for now at least – it may simply not happen.
Having agreed not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that led to the Western-backed overthrow of Libya’s leader last year, Russia and China show no sign of letting the same thing happen again in Syria – particularly at a time when both accuse the West of encouraging their own domestic opponents.
“There … is the glaring fact that Russia and Western and Arab powers still do not see eye to eye and cannot agree to the details of a power-sharing agreement, which diminishes the pressure in Damascus,” says Anthony Skinner, head of Middle East and North Africa at political risk consultancy Maplecroft.
“These diplomatic efforts … are on par to trying to weave a fleece from disintegrating threads.”
In the short term, that disintegration could well continue.
On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that if other world powers were truly committed to the pro-opposition Friends of Syria, “we would then be in a position where we couldn’t agree on anything”.
In the long run, however, diplomats widely believe Assad cannot survive the array of forces against him – particularly his own people. Those from the Sunni majority now protesting or fighting know that if they lose and he reasserts his power, the crackdown will likely be devastatingly savage.
The Alawite minority who make up much of the elite of politics and the armed forces, meanwhile, will also fear the consequences of defeat. But they may ultimately decide that their best chance of survival involves ditching their leader.
When or if that happens, the diplomatic channels may reopen. In the meantime, Western powers are left wondering whether their meeting in Geneva was even worth the airfare.
“It’s hard to say that it will ultimately make any difference,” said Ratner at Truman Foundation.
“There is an advantage to keeping talking with the Russians and Chinese to keep diplomatic options open. But now I don’t think there is much hope for an international agreement that resolves the situation.”
(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)
Guardian: Syrian regime TV reporter defects: Ghatan Sleiba, from the pro-Assad al-Dunya channel, says he has been providing intelligence to the rebels for months
Ghatan Sleiba, a long-time anchor and reporter for the al-Dunya channel and a contributor to the state-owned station al-Akhbariya, is believed to be the first high-profile defector from Damascus’s powerful propaganda arm. “I am the first and I will probably be the last,” he said in an interview with the Guardian in southern Turkey.
“There are some others who also want to run, but there are more who love the regime from the depths of their hearts,” he said.
Turkey’s state-run news agency reported that nearly 300 Syrians – including 85 soldiers – defected to Turkey on Monday.
Sleiba, 33, arrived in Turkey last Wednesday after a long journey from Hassaka in eastern Syria, where he had been responsible for coverage of the east of the country. He is now being hosted by rebel groups.
He claimed opposition guerillas were now in quasi-control of much of the east, especially the countryside surrounding major towns and cities.
“This is one of the things that they never wanted us to talk about. What we were doing was not reporting. It was simply acting as the tongue of the regime. I stayed as long as I could to help the revolutionaries, but I couldn’t take it any more.
Al-Dunya is part-owned and supervised by Bashar al-Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf, a key member of the inner sanctum. It has pushed the official narrative that the Syrian uprising is a plot by the west and key Sunni Arab powers to use al-Qaida-linked insurgents to overthrow the regime.
Sleiba said that before interviews he regularly gave people answers to questions he was about to ask them. “Those answers and the subjects of things to talk about were given to us by the head of the Ba’ath party in the area, or by the political security division.”
He said he first developed doubts about the official version of events about two months into the uprising, which started in March last year. “Many of us knew then that it wasn’t terrorists they were fighting. It was people wanting their rights. But it was very difficult to do anything about it. We have families and we need to protect them.”
Last November he made contact with the Free Syria Army, first near Hassaka and then in Turkey, telling both groups that he wanted to flee. “They told me that I was more use to them if I stayed in my job. And so from then on we talked on Skype and I told them what I could about regime and military movements.”
Sleiba accused regime intelligence units in the east of sending a gang to maim him with a knife and rob him of more than $2,000 (£1,300), then blame the attack on the rebels. “I know who did this to me,” he said pointing to a deep gouge on his forehead. “The Free Syria Army needs to win people’s confidence in our area and they have done that. We know who their members and their commanders are and they did not do this, no way. It was the regime.”
Sleiba said he was now looking for a job with an opposition television channel, something he concedes will be difficult, if first contact with suspicious reporters is anything to go by.
“When I got here, I met a guy from al-Jazeera and he said I was a government spy with a psychological problem. But people will soon learn that the truth is a powerful thing and that is why I am here.”
CAIRO (AP) — The Arab League chief urged exiled Syrian opposition figures to unite at a meeting Monday as a new Western effort to force President Bashar Assad from power faltered. Another 85 soldiers, including a general, fled to Turkey in a growing wave of defections.
Turkey’s state-run Andolou news agency said the group of defectors also included 14 other officers, ranging from one colonel to seven captains. It is one of the largest groups of Syrian army defectors to cross into Turkey since the uprising against Assad began.
The stakes are high for calming the crisis in Syria, which NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday called “one of the gravest security challenges the world faces today.”
But more than one year into the Syrian revolt, the opposition is still hobbled by the infighting and fractiousness that have prevented the movement from gaining the kind of political traction it needs to present a credible alternative to Assad.
“There is an opportunity before the conference of Syrian opposition today that must be seized, and I say and repeat that this opportunity must not be wasted under any circumstance,” Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told nearly 250 members of the Syrian opposition at the opening of the two-day conference in Cairo.
“The sacrifices of the Syrian people are bigger than us and more valuable than any narrow differences or factional disputes,” he said.
Nasser Al-Kidwa, deputy to U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, said that unity of purpose and vision was “not an option, but a necessity if the opposition wants to bolster its popular support and trust and increase international support.”
The divisions are tied to issues at the heart of the revolution: Whether to seek dialogue with the regime, whether outside military intervention is needed and what ideology should guide a post-Assad Syria.
Unlike Libya’s National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions fighting Moammar Gadhafi’s regime and was quickly recognized by much of the international community, Syria’s opposition has no leadership on the ground.
Regime opponents inside and outside Syria are a diverse group, representing the country’s ideological, sectarian and generational divide. They include dissidents who spent years in prison, tech-savvy activists in their 20s, former Marxists and Islamists.
Communication between those abroad and those in the country is extremely difficult. Political activists in Syria are routinely rounded up and imprisoned. Many are in hiding, communicating only through Skype using fake names, and the country is largely sealed off to exiled dissidents and foreign journalists.
The Cairo conference brought together various opposition groups — including the Syrian National Council and the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria — to try to agree on a united front to represent them, as well as to work out a transition plan for how to end to the conflict.
However, the main rebel group fighting Syrian government forces on the ground, the Free Syrian Army, was not represented at the talks. Faiz Amru, a member of the Joint Military Command, which is affiliated with the FSA, said the Cairo meeting was purely political, so rebels were not invited.
Besides the conference in Cairo, opposition members also plan to meet Russian officials later this month, a Russian news agency reported. But the Moscow talks are significant because the Kremlin is Syria’s most important ally, protector and supplier of arms.
Diplomatic hopes have rested on persuading Russia to agree to a plan that would end the Assad family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades.
Moscow’s determination to preserve its last remaining ally in the Middle East has blocked efforts by the U.S. and other Western powers to force Assad out.
World powers at a conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered plan calling for the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers in Syria. But at Russia’s insistence, the compromise left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration.
Some Syrian opposition groups have rejected the plan, calling it ambiguous and a waste of time and vowing not to negotiate with Assad or members of his “murderous” regime.
However, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria said Monday that the plan is the best way to ensure a political transition that avoids a full collapse of the Syrian state.