Syrian Forces Shell Cities as Opposition Picks Leader (NY) TIMES) By NEIL MacFARQUHAR ISTANBUL, TURKEY 06/11/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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ISTANBUL — Syrian government forces shelled rebel strongholds across
the country on Sunday, opponents of the government said, while the
main opposition group in exile, the Syrian National Council, chose a
The shelling struck at targets in and around Homs in central Syria
and near al-Heffa, just east of the port of Latakia, as well as other
locations, opposition groups said. The violence continues despite a
United Nations-brokered cease-fire, which has so far had little
effect on the conflict, and the presence of international monitors.
The new leader of the council, announced on Sunday in Istanbul, is
Abdelbaset Sieda, a Kurdish professor of Arabic and philosophy who
promised the organization would be overhauled.
“We will expand and extend the base of the council,” he told
reporters at a news conference, “so it will take on its role as an
umbrella under which all the opposition will seek shade.”
The Syrian National Council, formed last fall, has been plagued by
infighting and has been criticized as ineffective, amounting to
little more than a front for the long-exiled Syrian branch of the
Muslim Brotherhood with little influence inside the country. Its top
post was supposed to rotate every three months, but Bourhan Ghalioun,
another exiled academic, held on to it until an outcry over his most
recent re-election in May, especially from inside Syria, prompted him
to step down.
Council members involved in the process hailed Mr. Sieda’s election
as proof that the Syrian opposition was committed to upholding
democratic principles and the idea of a “leaderless revolution.” He
“The ideal leadership of the council is not through one person —
because no one is elected and has actual legitimacy,” said Bassma
Kodmani, a member of the executive committee. Until such time as
there are free elections in Syria, she said, the choice of the
president of the council should be made by consensus.
“The revolution does not want to see a big leader, or one individual
who leads everything,” Ms. Kodmani said. “Personalization leads to
Still, critics both in the wider membership of the council and
outside the group said Mr. Sieda had emerged as the consensus choice
precisely because he represents no one, either inside Syria or out.
Both the Muslim Brotherhood and liberals in the council concluded
that he did not pose a threat or provide an advantage to any bloc
within the council, they said, but for the same reasons he will have
little real authority, and the bickering will continue.
“The Muslim Brotherhood, especially, does not want a strong person,
neither someone with political strength nor a strong personality,”
said Hasan Kasem, a young liberal activist.
Mr. Sieda, who turns 56 on Tuesday, has lived in Sweden for the past
17 years, and calls himself an independent. As a Kurd, he belongs to
a minority that was oppressed for years by the Syrian government.
Most Kurdish opposition groups do not take part in the council
because it has not promised to back a federal government structure
for Syria that would give Kurdish areas some measure of autonomy.
At the news conference, Mr. Sieda defended his long record of
opposition to the governments of President Bashar al-Assad and his
father, Hafez. To counter criticism of the council, he noted that the
executive committee had just added three members with experience
running local leadership councils who had fled Syria recently.
Answering complaints that not enough humanitarian aid was being sent
to areas affected by the conflict, Mr. Sieda said the council would
soon distribute $3 million worth of aid inside Syria.
Sunday was the sixth straight day that al-Heffa and neighboring
villages were hit with rocket, mortar and tank shelling, opposition
groups said. But the official news agency, SANA, gave a different
account, saying that “armed terrorist groups” — its label for all
opponents of the government — looted and burned public property in al-
Heffa and killed residents.
Farther south in Qusair, near the border with Lebanon, activists said
an attack by government forces killed at least six people on Sunday.
They said that Homs, about 20 miles away, also sustained heavy
bombardment for the third straight day, with several dozen people
killed in the area over the weekend.
“Each day is more than the next,” said Salim Kabani, an activist
reached via Skype. “It is the heaviest since the beginning of the
revolution, and includes all kinds of weapons — artillery, mortars,
Mr. Kabani said that all the soldiers at a small military base in a
village called Ghanto near Homs defected to the rebel side on Sunday,
and that government helicopters bombed the base soon after the
Claims from either the opposition or the government about events in
Syria are difficult to confirm independently, because the Syrian
government sharply limits the number of foreign journalists allowed
in to the country and where they can go. Hwaida Saad and Sebnem Arsu
contributed reporting. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company
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