Syrian opposition cautiously welcomes UN cease-fire plan (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Scott Peterson ISTANBUL, TURKEY 03/27/12)
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But for more support from the West, the Syrian opposition needs to
overcome divisions and squabbling that were on full display at a
major Istanbul meeting today.
Syria´s divided opposition is cautiously welcoming envoy Kofi Annan´s
cease-fire plan, accepted by Syria´s government today, even as it
struggles to find unity after a year of popular revolt and bloodshed.
But it was not immediately clear if the exiled opposition leadership
would now agree to sit down for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-
Assad as part of "an inclusive, Syrian-led political process to
address the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," as spelled
out in the agreement brokered by Mr. Annan on behalf of the United
Nearly eight months after the Syrian National Council (SNC) was
formed to spearhead the political effort to unseat Mr. Assad, it is
marred by infighting and roundly criticized for doing little to help
back home, where more than 9,000 have been killed in the one-year
IN PICTURES: Conflict in Syria
"The performance of the [SNC] is very weak ... No money has gone
inside [Syria], and no weapons and not even medicine," says
opposition member Orouba Barakat, who says she sold her inheritance
of gold for the cause, and knows of others who sold cars and other
belongings to fund the revolt.
"It comes from our own pockets, and our pockets are very limited,"
she adds. Money has been wasted on poor and inoperative weapons. She
says the revolution needs Western support "to get the right weapons,"
as well as the creation of a buffer zone – as now under consideration
by Turkey – "just to breathe."
Biggest Syrian opposition meeting yet
Ms. Barakat was speaking on the sidelines of an Istanbul meeting
today that brought together the widest array of Syrian opposition
parties to date. The aim was to end infighting, bridge differences,
and present a united vision of a democratic, post-Assad future before
an international "Friends of Syria" conference convenes here on April
As many as 300 opposition leaders and activists met at a secluded
Istanbul hotel, from which journalists were barred entry. The leaders
were invited by Turkey and Qatar, which have both strongly challenged
the legitimacy of Assad´s rule.
The opposition has demanded that the Syrian president step down and
end more than 40 years of Assad family rule. Annan´s cease-fire plan
stops far short of that, but it has the endorsement of the UN
Security Council, including China and Russia – a key arms supplier to
The plan includes an immediate cease-fire, ending heavy weapon use in
urban areas, and a daily two-hour "humanitarian pause" to deliver aid
and allow for evacuations. Assad´s regime today accepted the plan,
but similar promises by Assad´s regime, to the Arab League and
others, have never been met.
"We do continue to say we need to see Bashar al-Assad step down –
that will never change. For this, thousands of people have
sacrificed, [so no] credible opposition can say otherwise," Bassma
Kodmani, a leading member of the SNC, told Al Jazeera English in
"What we are saying here is, if this can open the way for a peaceful
transition of power, this is what we would like to see," said Ms.
Kodmani. "We have never chosen to militarize this revolution. It was
peaceful and it can become peaceful again, immediately [after] the
regime stops the killing."
´We don´t believe they believe in the revolution´
At today´s meeting, the SNC presented a draft unity manifesto that
described an inclusive, democratic Syria free of tyranny. But many
were still not convinced of the SNC´s leadership. A veteran dissident
who had been jailed by Assad´s walked out in protest, as did some
Kurdish members of the opposition.
"They are not strong enough, not effective enough. We don´t believe
they believe in the revolution – their performance until now works
for the Assad regime, not for us," says Barakat, the activist who
sold her family gold. She is based in Abu Dhabi and has mostly lived
outside Syria since 1978.
The SNC plans to both expand the number of opposition groups under
its umbrella this week, and begin a "restructuring" that makes it far
more effective, says SNC member Hassan Hachimi, a Canada-based
architect. Members needed to be "working in projects," new portfolios
should create a government-in-waiting, and perhaps most important, a
framework needed to be put in place "that supports the revolution."
"I think everybody is aware" of the criticism from revolutionaries
inside about the SNC being out of touch, and "we can´t make an excuse
of it," says Mr. Hachimi. The main issue has been poor
communication, "not that the SNC didn´t care."
"Expectations inside Syria were way too much," he adds, of a revolt
that has dragged on far longer than the five or six months most
predicted. "The Syrian people have shown tremendous courage, this
will to sacrifice. We have the will and the patience – the key
weapons. We are dealing with the [regime´s advantages] one by one. At
least we are moving forward."
But not fast enough, by the reckoning of some opposition supporters.
"As someone who has seen a lot of divisions, I´m not optimistic,"
says a translator who left Syria two months ago, and asked that only
his first name, Shyar, be used to protect his family still inside
"The problem is, the political side of the opposition is far away
from the people, [who] have very high expectations," says Shyar. "At
first, [the opposition] was for evolution. But when the Syrian regime
started to bombard cities and kill civilians, you raise your demands
for Assad to step down. The regime is not listening at all. It is
blind and deaf."
Syrian state TV today showed Assad visiting the former opposition
stronghold of Homs, promising a better future after government forces
had bombarded it for weeks in a bid to rout armed rebels.
´If we had got a portion of what Libya got ...´
Finding elusive unity is critical for the opposition, says activist
Fadel al-Salim, in order "to remove these excuses from the
international community" not to help. "We must prove to the world we
are united, and working in the same direction."
From the start, the US and European countries have ruled out a Libya-
style military intervention, which last year enabled an eventual
rebel victory over Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
They have also been reluctant to provide weapons and money, though
reports this week suggest that the US and possibly Turkey are
beginning to provide "nonlethal aid," such as communication radios
for the loose grouping of rebel forces inside the country, known as
the Syrian Free Army.
"If we had got a portion of what Libya got, it would be a different
picture today," Hachimi, the architect.
Yet obstacles remain to securing international help on the eve of the
second "Friends of Syria" meeting. The first, in Tunisia a month ago,
yielded little concrete progress.
"We have hope, but still the pain of birth," says one Syrian at the
conference wearing an opposition flag scarf, who recently fled Syria
and asked not to be named.
"I think the American and the Russians, everyone sees the situation
in Syria. Politics aside, how many children have to die? Old women
and men?" asks the Syrian. "The world now understands and will help.
We already paid for that in blood." (© The Christian Science Monitor.
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