Syria’s new opposition leadership, painfully forged under Arab and Western pressure, set out yesterday to gather recognition and wider backing for the struggle to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and take over the country.
Reformist Damascus cleric Mouaz al-Khatib flew to Cairo to seek the Arab League’s blessing for the new assembly that unanimously elected him as its leader the day before.
“The first step toward recognition will take place at the Arab League,” he said.
The body would then seek endorsement from Arab and Western foes of al-Assad known as the “Friends of Syria” and from the UN General Assembly, he said.
Russia, which with China has foiled UN action on Syria and views al-Assad’s opponents as in thrall to the West, urged the new coalition to negotiate and to reject outside interference.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Moscow would keep up contact with Damascus and “the whole spectrum of opposition forces” and promote a constructive approach.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) did not answer directly when asked if China recognized the fledgling opposition body, instead calling on all parties to initiate “a political transition process guided by the Syrian people.”
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and most Arab League members want al-Assad removed, although some, such as Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria, take a more neutral stance on Syria, where violence was raging on.
Syrian jets and helicopters attacked the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain, with some bombs landing just meters from the Turkish border, sending scores of civilians fleeing into Turkey.
A reporter on the border said one warplane flew right along the border and appeared to stray across it at one point, as bombs sent up plumes of black smoke.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 people, including seven Islamist militants, had been killed in the air strikes on Ras al-Ain, which fell to rebels on Thursday during an advance into Syria’s mixed Arab and Kurdish northeast. The pro-opposition Observatory, which tracks the violence from Britain, said 140 people were killed in Syria on Sunday. Another opposition group put the death toll at 16. More than 38,000 people have been killed since March last year.
Turkey, whose border security worries were heightened by a sudden influx of 9,000 refugees within 24 hours last week, has consulted its NATO allies about possibly deploying Patriot surface-to-air missiles to deter Syria’s air force.
Such a move could be a prelude to enforcing a no-fly zone in Syria, although Western powers have fought shy of this.
Riad Seif, a respected Syrian dissident who proposed the new opposition body, said no such military intervention was needed.