Hundreds of members of the fragmented Syrian opposition met in Qatar Sunday to figure out their next moves and to form a unified front against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United States is pushing for a Syrian National Initiative to be formed during this five-day meeting in the Qatari capital of Doha.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about the initiative in an interview after her meeting with the Croatian president on Oct. 31. She suggested that rebel forces fighting on the ground in Syria take a more prominent role in the bloc. This would mean a shift from the current prominence of the Syrian National Council, a Turkey-based opposition group.
“This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have, in many instances, not been inside Syria for 20, 30, or 40 years,” said Clinton. “There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom.”
The Syrian National Council would still have a place in the U.S.-backed Syrian National Initiative, albeit a diminished one. The initiative would unite rebel forces, members of local Syrian councils, and other fragmented opposition groups.
Members of the Syrian National Council were not pleased by Clinton’s suggestion and said the United States is trying to undermine their efforts.
“Only the people of Syria can decide who represents them and who doesn’t. No one else has a say in that,” outgoing council leader Abdelbaset Sieda told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera.
Failed efforts have been made before to unify splintered bands of rebels fighting against the regime. The Free Syrian Army, which still is not unified, made such an attempt, notes the Al-Jazeera report. The groups, who sometimes run towns and neighborhoods, have ideological differences that are difficult to resolve.
Clinton also stressed the urgency of developing a strong opposition leadership so that extremists cannot “take over what has been a legitimate revolution against a repressive regime for their own purposes.”
On Sunday, fighting raged on across the country. Syrian rebels said they had taken over an oil refinery in Deir Ezzor, near the border of Iraq, after a several-day-long siege, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Friday, the U.N.’s human rights office said that a video showing apparent summary executions carried out by Syrian rebels likely constitute a war crime.
“The allegations are that these were soldiers who were no longer combatants and therefore, at this point, it looks very like a war crime,” U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville said, according to a transcript.
Evidence exists to implicate opposition factions and Syrian government forces alike in such actions, notes Colville.
Colville said, “People committing these crimes should be under no illusion that they will escape accountability, because there is a lot of accumulated evidence.”
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