Syrians search for victims as they inspect the damage after a government airstrike in Ras al-Ayn., Syria, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012. (AP Photo(Photo: Shaam News Network via AP)
ANTAKYA, Turkey -- The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council says it has
recognized the new broad-based Syrian opposition group as the
legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.
statement is the first formal recognition for the newly united
opposition group that seeks to topple President Bashar Assad.
also could be another step toward opening up greater military aid to the
rebels from the Gulf states such as Qatar, which hosted the Syrian
Syrian rebel groups formed the new, unified
opposition body in the face of escalating violence in the country and
spillover in the region, but the jury is out on whether it will be more
credible and effective than the council it replaces.
"All the FSA
(Free Syrian Army) leaders demanded that (the opposition) politicians
unite before," said Mosa Ahmed, an FSA fighter and member of the Free
Syrian Lawyers, based in Antakya, Turkey. "I hope that all the FSA
units will accept the new council, but I can't guarantee it."
powers have held back from assisting rebels directly for fear that
weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. But on Sunday,
delegates in Qatar ended days of talks with an agreement to band
together under the umbrella of the National Coalition for Syrian
Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) -- an organization made up
of 60 seats and including members from the main opposition Syrian
National Council (SNC).
Previously regarded as the closest thing
to a unified group, the SNC had been criticized as not being
representative of opposition groups within Syria and for its inaction
during the 19-month conflict. The U.S. pulled support from the group.
while the group was initially resistant to a new leadership body, an
agreement was finally reached on Sunday with members of the SNC taking
22 of the seats, while Damascene imam Maath al-Khatib was chosen as
president for the new dissident organization.
Al-Khatib, seen as a
politically inclusive independent candidate, has been repeatedly
arrested for his opposition to the Assad regime. Analysts say his
election represents a change from the SNC, which is seen as dominated by
"Appointing a preacher represents a qualitative
change that will most likely resonate among many people because it
provides religious legitimation," said Fawaz Gerges, director of the
Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. "This also shifts
the balance in power in the opposition. The reality is that, while there
are many secular voices, the opposition on the ground has become more
and more religious."
Meanwhile, observers say they hope the new
coalition will allow for a more streamlined and efficient leadership
than the 310-member SNC. The new structure follows the framework of the
Syrian National Initiative, a plan put forward by Syrian businessman and
political dissident Riad Seif who has been elected one of two vice
presidents of the new coalition.
Analysts say the move has come about under pressure from the international community, and the U.S. in particular.
Syrian opposition elements are under pressure from the Western powers
to give them the cover they need to ensure Assad falls," said Rosemary
Hollis, professor of Middle East Policy studies at City University,
London. "(The West and much of the Arab world) are not prepared to live
with long-term containment of the Syrian conflict -- It's got to be
regime change and in order to increase the chances (of that), they need
to get arms to Assad's opponents and (therefore) they need the
opposition to change."
The British will be hosting talks with
representatives of the new coalition in London later this week to
discuss "further support" for the Syrian opposition, according to a
statement from British Foreign Secretary William Hague released on
Supporters of the new initiative say that it represents
90% of the Syrian opposition groups, compared with only 50% or 60% that
are represented by the SNC.
Most important, analysts say, it is
trying to bring in armed opposition forces and provide coordinated
leadership for what is currently a fragmented alliance of rebel
battalions made up of foreign elements and Islamist groups united by the
common aim of overthrowing Assad - but at times little else.
Still, it remains to be seen if these forces will follow the coalition's leadership.
it's more inclusive, but will the new opposition really be able to
unify all factions inside Syria?" Gerges said. "Will it be able to speak
for the dozens of military battalions? Will the various factions be
able to shed their own identity and coalesce? The jury is still out."
fighting between regime forces and rebels has continued to spill out
into neighboring territories with shells straying into Israeli-occupied
Golan Heights on Sunday and Monday. Israel reacted by firing back into
Syrian territory, taking out a Syrian armored vehicle.
already been clashes on Syria's borders with Turkey, Lebanon and
Jordan. Analysts say this only underlines the need to contain the Syrian
"What the Israelis are doing made it clear that they
didn't perceive themselves to be under attack, but that it was a
retaliatory move to send a message --beware of this border, if you
transgress it, we won't put up with it," Hollis said. "Slowly but surely
the ramifications of the conflict are affecting all the neighbors and
creating more and more uncertainty and instability."