Syrian activists yesterday called for nationwide demonstrations in support of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a day after the main civilian opposition umbrella group agreed to work more closely with the armed rebels.
Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghaliun met with rebel chief Colonel Riad al-Asaad on Thursday and “extensively discussed the situation on the ground and the organizational capacity of the FSA,” a council statement said.
“The parties agreed to formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganization of FSA units and brigades, and the creation of a format to accommodate within FSA ranks additional officers and soldiers, especially senior military officials, who side with the revolution,” the statement added.
Formed from deserters from the regular army who mutinied over the regime’s deadly 10-month crackdown on anti-government protests, the Free Syrian Army says it has about 40,000 fighters under its command.
The numbers cannot be independently verified, although the Syrian authorities have acknowledged mounting losses at the hands of the rebels in recent months.
“The SNC proposed a plan of action concerning mechanisms and avenues of support to be offered to pro-revolution sectors of the Syrian military,” the group’s statement said.
“Additionally, a direct channel of communication between the SNC and FSA will be established to ensure effective coordination between the two. The SNC intends to establish a liaison office with the FSA in order to maintain direct communications around the clock,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, the death of a French journalist in Syria brought new calls for an independent investigation of the violence in the country, following a series of mysterious attacks since December that have killed scores of people despite the presence of Arab League monitors.
The prospects for such an independent probe are slim in Syria, where the government has barred access by most foreign media except on escorted trips. The Arab League observer mission has been beset by problems and itself criticized as merely providing cover for the regime’s crackdown on dissent. Help from the UN is unlikely, in part because Syrian allies Russia and China are blocking action against Damascus.
Humanitarian aid has been turned away, as well. On Thursday, Syrian authorities barred hundreds of people from entering the country from Turkey to deliver medicine, food and other aid.
The French government, human rights groups and Syria’s opposition demanded an inquiry into the death on Wednesday of Gilles Jacquier, 43, in a barrage of grenades in the restive city of Homs. The award-winning correspondent for France-2 Television was the first Western journalist killed in the 10-month-old uprising.
“The killing of the French journalist raises a number of questions — who launched the attacks, what was the purpose?” said Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“So at this point, what’s important is again to launch a credible investigation,” he added.
The governor of Homs formed a committee to investigate Jacquier’s killing, the state-run news agency said. However, observers say the probe should be international.
Thousands of people, most believed to be unarmed protesters, have been killed in the revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jacquier’s death, along with three suicide bombings in the capital of Damascus since Dec. 23, have added a new dimension to a conflict that already has brought the country to the verge of civil war.
“The journalists were attacked in a heavily militarized regime stronghold. It would be hugely difficult for any armed opposition to penetrate the area and launch such a deadly attack,” said Wissam Tarif, a campaigner for online global activist group Avaaz.
Syria has only recently started issuing short-term visas for a limited number of journalists, who must be accompanied by government minders. Local reporters work under heavy restrictions.
Jacquier was among a group of 15 journalists on the government trip when they were hit by the grenades; up to eight Syrian civilians also were reported killed.
The opposition called for protests in his honor, and activists said hundreds of people demonstrated across the country in cold and rainy weather, demanding al-Assad’s downfall.
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