Syrian opposition strikes unity deal

Syrian opposition leaders struck a hard-won deal on Sunday under intense international pressure to form a broad, new coalition to prepare for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad.

Delegates, who had struggled for days in the Qatari capital Doha to find the unity their Western and Arab backers have long urged, said the new body would ensure a voice for religious and ethnic minorities and for the rebels fighting on the ground, who have complained of being overlooked by exiled dissident groups. Some details remain outstanding, including who will head the new Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces and the final assent of some leaders not present in Doha.

Diplomats and officials from the United States and Qatar, the tiny Gulf emirate whose oil and gas wealth has helped fund the 20-month-old uprising, have particularly been pressing the Syrian National Council (SNC), whose leaders mostly live abroad, to drop fierce objections to joining a wider body.

“An initial deal has been signed. A final formulation has been agreed and signed,” Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, a delegate for the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, told reporters.

Delegates said there would be specific representation for women and ethnic Kurds as well as for Christians and Alawites, the religious minority to which Assad belongs and from which he has drawn much of the leadership of his security forces. It was not entirely clear whether full agreement had been reached, however.

Some delegates had to refer back to leaders who were absent: “Everybody agreed to sign,” said Bassem Said Ishak of the SNC. “But the Kurds need 48 hours to get approval from their leadership.”

The coalition’s president, once chosen, will automatically become the focal point for opposition activities in a rapidly developing conflict.

The SNC, which elected its own new leader, George Sabra, on Friday, had lost the confidence of Washington and other powers, who saw it as unable to provide overall direction for the anti-Assad forces and riven with personal disputes.

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