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Sunday, September 18, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Syrian opposition, in Turkey, moves to garner international backing

ANKARA — The Syrian opposition, after six months of revolt against President Bashar Assad, is seeking to unite in an effort to garner international support.


The opposition based in Turkey has formed a council that seeks to combine activists in Syria with those abroad. The new Syrian National Council consists of 140 members, led by its secretary Basma Qadmani, based in Paris.

"We are aiming to topple the Assad regime while protecting the institutions of the state," Ms. Qadmani said.

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Unlike Libya, the opposition to Assad has failed to garner international intervention. Since March, the Syrian opposition has reported the deaths of more than 3,000 people and injury of another 20,000.

Still, at the council session in Istanbul, only the governments of Canada and Japan attended. Opposition sources said other countries had pledged to send observers, Middle East Newsline reported.

Opposition sources said activists against Assad convened in Belgium, Britain, Egypt and Turkey to decide on the council membership. They said the majority of the representatives — 40 percent of whom come from Syria — consists of secular opposition members. Most of the names on the council were withheld to prevent reprisals by Assad.

"Our group has worked to secure as many groups as possible from inside and outside Syria," Ms. Qadmani, addressing a meeting in Istanbul on Sept. 14, said. "The legitimacy of this council, however, derives primarily from approval from inside Syria. So we did everything to our power to consult all opposition groups there."

The opposition has expressed disappointment with Turkey. In September, Turkey was said to have handed over a senior Syrian Army officer, Lt. Gen. Hussein Harmoush, who defected and joined the opposition. On Sept. 15, the Assad regime confirmed that it was holding Harmoush.

The sources said the council would focus on the international community and lobby against Assad. They said the panel would form offices on legal affairs, foreign relations as well as launch a satellite television channel.

Ms. Qadmani outlined a three-phase program to oust the Assad regime. She said the regime was collapsing and a democratic alternative must be prepared.

"The first phase, which we are already experiencing, includes the collapse of the regime," Ms. Qadmani said. "The second phase will include the replacement of the old regime with the new one. The last phase is the establishment of a transitional government."

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