The new head of Syria’s main opposition group has called for mass defections from a regime he says is “on its last legs” after a series of massacres, as the death toll in the uprising tops 14,000.
Similar calls were made by the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), which also urged a campaign of mass “civil disobedience” to ratchet up internal pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s beleaguered regime.
“We are entering a sensitive phase. The regime is on its last legs,” Kurdish activist Abdel Basset Sayda told reporters on Sunday shortly after being named the new leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC).
“The multiplying massacres and shellings show that it is -struggling,” he said of mass deaths of civilians, the most recent of which saw 20 people, mostly women and children, killed in a bombardment of the southern city of Daraa on Saturday.
At his first news conference since taking over the reins, Sayda called on all members of the Damascus regime to defect, while reaching out to minority groups by promising them a full say in a future, democratic Syria.
“We call upon all officials in the regime and in the institutions to defect from the regime,” Sayda told reporters in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, the FSA called for a campaign of civil disobedience and urged officers and troops in al-Assad’s military to jump ship and join the rebel ranks.
“We call on Syrians to launch a general strike leading to mass civil disobedience,” FSA spokesman in Syria Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said in a statement.
He urged officers and men in Syria’s regular army “whose hands are not tainted with blood to join the fighters.”
New SNC chief Sayda replaced Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun, who stepped down last month in the face of mounting splits that were undermining the group’s credibility.
Activists accused Ghalioun of ignoring the Local Coordination Committees, which spearhead anti-government protests on the ground in Syria, and of giving the Muslim Brotherhood too big a role.
Sayda, 55, has lived in exile in Sweden for two decades and is seen as a consensus candidate capable of reconciling the rival factions within the SNC and of broadening its appeal among -Syria’s myriad of ethnic and confessional groups.
He is not in any political party, and SNC officials call him a “conciliatory” figure, “honest” and “independent.”
Sayda reached out to minority groups in Syria, following criticism of the SNC for failing to represent the country’s full array of ethnic and religious groups including Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and others.
“We would like to reassure all sects and groups, especially Alawites and Christians, that the future of Syria will be for the all of us,” he said.