The leaders of the Syrian opposition are set to pick a prime minister to lead a provisional government in rebel-held parts of the country. It comes as the group refuses several international invitations to talks after unabated violence.
The Syrian National Coalition estimates that areas controlled by the insurgency comprise about half of Syria, and wants to form a government quickly in order to prevent those areas from falling into chaos, according to a Friday statement. Coalition leader Walid al-Bunni said that “there has to be an executive authority capable of caring for millions of Syrians in the liberated territories who need water, electricity, security and protection. Hospitals also have been destroyed by the regime and humanitarian aid needs to be managed.”
The deal was sealed in a two-day meeting in Cairo, and is the precursor to a March 2 meeting in Istanbul, where the final decision will be made. The Friday talks involved a consensus between the various factions of the coalition advocating a quick formation of a new government, including one comprising the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Reuters.
An unnamed source added that it remains unclear whether the new government could immediately begin operating in the captured areas in the face of Bashar al-Assad’s heavy military superiority across the country.
There is a notable lack of discipline among rebels, and the failure to provide insurgent-held areas with a governing body that would restore order, basic services and electricity could fragment the opposition and eventually cost them the war, sources close to the opposition believe. This has been the biggest disadvantage for the opposition leaders during the two years since the uprising began. Furthermore, it remains unclear how effective the technocratic government’s control over Islamist brigades will be, especially if it can’t operate on the ground.
So far, former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab was among those offered as a candidate to head the provisional government, but despite a clear recognition of his talents by many, he did not gather substantial support – especially from the Muslim Brotherhood – due to his past in President Assad’s ruling Baath Party. “Hijab has said the right things and is an administrator. He is qualified but his history in the regime plays against him,” one coalition member said. A former agricultural minister from the era of Bashar al-Assad’s father’s rule, Assad Mustafa, is also among those considered for the post of provisional PM.
No place for dialogue
Meanwhile, violence has been rocking both the capital Damascus and the ancient city of Aleppo. At least 100 people have been killed and over 250 wounded in a massive car bomb blast that hit Damascus on Thursday. The explosion shook a square where pro-government rallies are usually staged.
The Syrian foreign ministry has blamed the attack on al-Qaeda-linked “terrorist” groups. The opposition’s Damascus media office says that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has “denied responsibility for the blast and blamed it on the regime.” International peace envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi condemned the attack, saying that nothing could justify such horrible actions – which amount to war crimes under international law.”
The envoy called on the UN Security Council last month to set up an investigative body for “such crimes” in Syria. In an interview to RT he stressed the unwillingness of the Syrian opposition to engage in any kind of meaningful discussion with President Assad, this fact being a major cause for the stalemate in the country. Meanwhile, a Russian UNSC statement condemning the Damascus bombings was shot down by Washington, who insisted that the wording include an attack on the actions of President Assad as well. Moscow reacted sharply, claiming that Washington seeks to “justify terrorism.”
In Aleppo on Friday, at least 29 people have been killed and dozens wounded following three surface-to-surface missile strikes by government forces – according to a Syrian Observatory for Human Rights statement to AFP.
The violence has aroused heated criticism from the Syrian opposition, which in turn chose to boycott a string of international invitations to talks: the Friends of Syria conference of international powers in Rome, and the invitations to Moscow and Washington that were made to opposition coalition leader Mouaz al-Khatib after his meetings with Russian and American foreign ministers this month in Munich. The invites followed a repeat proposal by al-Khatib to negotiate the departure of President Assad with members of the Syrian government.
Al-Khatib has since been harshly criticized by both Islamist and liberal members of the opposition for proposing talks with the government without outlining a clear list of goals. The coalition continued to press for Assad’s ouster, saying that no progress can be attained without “the removal of Bashar al-Assad and the heads of the military and security apparatus responsible for the decisions that led the country to this stage.” They also demanded in the statement that any further initiatives to engage the Syrian government must be agreed with the 12-member leadership of the opposition coalition.