Turkey calls for int'l support as Syrian opposition unites
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said that the Syrian opposition needs the full support of the international community and as opposition groups are no longer divided, there is no excuse left to foreign governments to refrain from giving this support, as the newly formed opposition set out on Monday to gather recognition and wider backing for the struggle to topple President Bashar al-Assad and take over the country.
After more than a week of meetings in Doha under intense international pressure, Syrian opposition groups signed an initial agreement on Sunday to form a new coalition force that will include representatives from all groups in Syria struggling to topple Assad. The coalition's leader, cleric Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, flew to Cairo on Monday seek the Arab League's blessing for the new assembly. The Arab League has called an extraordinary meeting at the foreign ministerial level to discuss the results of Doha meeting.
Speaking in Doha on Sunday night, following the conclusion of week-long talks, Davutoğlu praised the new coalition, calling on the international community to support it. "The Friends of Syria ... should support this agreement. ... There is no excuse anymore. All those who support the just struggle of the Syrian people should declare their clear support for this agreement and be more active,” said Davutoğlu.
While addressing the representatives of Syrian opposition groups at the meeting on Sunday in the Qatari capital at which they agreed to unite under the leadership of the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, Davutoğlu stated that no regime can survive when it wages war on its own people. “The Assad regime will stop resisting the will of the people because these people will determine the fate of Syria,” he said.
Davutoğlu thanked the representatives of the groups for their contributions in forming the new leadership. “Today is an historic day and tomorrow will bring a new beginning. I would like to announce that the Syrian representatives have agreed on a new roadmap. They will derive their legitimacy from the will of the Syrian people,” said Davutoğlu.
The Turkish foreign minister also met with the leaders of the new coalition, Sheikh al-Khatib and George Sabra. Al-Khatib was elected president of the Syrian Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces and Sabra was selected president of the Syrian National Council (SNC), one of the major organizations now under the new Syrian Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces.
Davutoğlu expressed Turkey's continued support for the Syrian people, and al-Khatib and Sabra thanked him for this support and Turkey's efforts in maintaining the unity of Syrian opposition groups.
Noting that al-Khatib is a Muslim and Sabra a Christian, Davutoğlu underlined that the Syrian revolution is supported by all segments of Syrian society. Davutoğlu reiterated that claims of divisions within the opposition have been put to rest and that the new Syrian Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces represents the whole of Syria.
The foreign minister also noted that the SNC has made great contributions to the Syrian revolution and that Turkey had always supported the restructuring of the council. The SNC, the main political opposition to Assad's regime, defied accusations of being Islamist-led by electing a Christian opposition activist to the presidency Friday night.
The SNC, which has struggled to win credibility both internationally and within the opposition as a democratic alternative to Assad, has been criticized by Syrians on the ground for not representing all segments of the Syrian opposition. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently called for the formation of a new leadership body that would represent the whole of Syria.
Garnering support of the new deal by the SNC was not easy. In marathon talks in Doha that lasted into the early hours of Sunday, the SNC had threatened to pull out of the initiative altogether. The Qatari prime minister and United Arab Emirates foreign minister attended personally to try to persuade them, insisting that a deal would secure international backing. “The SNC agreed only under pressure. They only want to monopolize representing the revolution,” one source told Reuters on Sunday. “They were given a deadline of 10 a.m. today to either come join or risk it being announced without them.”
The SNC -- which was formed in İstanbul in September of last year -- was recognized in February by the anti-Assad Friends of Syria coalition as “a legitimate representative of the Syrian opposition,” but infighting and worries over the group's exclusiveness had kept it from being seen as the sole voice of a growing Syrian opposition movement.
US diplomats and officials from Qatar, which has bankrolled opposition to Assad and played a major role in Arab diplomacy against him, prodded the players over the past week to come to an arrangement. The new plan endorsed after the week-long talks in Doha involves a 55 or 60-member assembly alongside a military council, including rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army, and a judicial council.
Delegates said Kurdish activists would give their full approval in the coming days after some consultation but that a third deputy president could be appointed from among the minority. “Everybody agreed to sign. But the Kurds need 48 hours to get approval from their leadership,” said Bassem Said Ishak, who said al-Khatib's Islamist hue would not trouble Western backers.
Speaking to the Anatolia news agency on Sunday, al-Khatib reiterated that “Syrian people will never forget the Turkish government and people's efforts to protect Syrians. The situation in Syria has moved beyond political interests and has reached a humanitarian crisis. Our brothers in Turkey are aware of this situation.”