Middle East

Opposition to set up inside Syria 'in days'

The president of the Syrian National Council, Abdul baset Sieda, waits to be heard on October 10, 2012 by members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Assembly in Paris. AFP PHOTO THOMAS SAMSON

ATME, Syria: Syria's main exiled opposition coalition the Syrian National Council will in a "matter of days" set up in a rebel-controlled area inside the country, a top member of the group said on Wednesday.

"Very soon, we will install ourselves in Syria, deep in Syrian territory. It's a matter of days," Jamal al-Ward, a SNC official in charge of relations with the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), told AFP.

According to another SNC source, discussions over setting up operations inside Syria "have been going for a month."

Ward said that SNC leader Abdel Basset Sayda and other members of the executive committee will regularly travel to Syria via Atme, a village in Idlib province in the northwest which is a key rear base for the rebels near the Turkish border.

Sayda entered Syria from Turkey on Monday for the first time since he took up leadership of the opposition, visiting Atme and the front line outpost Bab al-Hawa.

He was accompanied by senior SNC officials and met FSA chiefs as well as visiting a hospital and a prison where captured regime troops are being held.

The SNC will meet next week in Doha to try to incorporate other groups hostile to the Damascus regime. It has been criticised for failing to unite the Syrian opposition as the 18-month-old rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad rages on.

Sayda's visit aimed to show the SNC's support for the FSA command, Ward said.

The FSA command, which merges 14 military councils that represent the country's regions and minority groups, is already operational in Atme. It has no designated head and works by a voting system, and will meet regularly in the village, the official added.

"Between 75 and 80 percent of the armed groups on the ground are under our control. We are the FSA, composed of fighters, defectors from Assad's army and civilians," Ward said.

Some rebel fighters refuse to recognise the SNC's legitimacy, denouncing its lack of action and the fact it has been based thus far outside the country, having been founded in Istanbul.

The FSA itself is also wrought by internal rivalry, with groups acting independently but claiming to operate under its umbrella.

"We must first of all integrate the most important units, like the Al-Haqq brigade and Liwa al-Tawhid," the most important fighting group in Aleppo, Ward said.

"There are no Islamists or foreign fighters (in the FSA). The Al-Nusra Front (a jihadist group that has claimed most of the conflict's bomb attacks) is not under (FSA) supervision," he added.

"We have worked to put this new structure in place for six months. There was a desire to work in unison. The negotiations were long."

Ward stressed the importance of having an "organisation capable not only of defending, but of coordinating our actions to go on the offensive."





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