Syria | Opposition Forms New Governing Body
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- Government Forces Crack Down on Protesters
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- Opposition Forms New Governing Body
- Several Countries Accuse Assad of Using Chemical Weapons
- Gains by Government and Splintering of Opposition Signal Staying Power of Assad
- Assad Accused of Launching a Chemical Attack
- Splintering of Opposition, Rise of ISIS Cause Concern
- UN-Led Negotiations Begin in Geneva; Rebels Suffer Setbacks
- Assad Re-elected in a Disputed Election
- Obama Authorizes Strikes on ISIS
- Peace Talks Delayed Again as Civil War Rages On; Another Attempt at Peace
Opposition Forms New Governing Body
In November 2012, Syria's opposition groups agreed to form a new governing body that will unify the many rebel groups under one umbrella. The 50-person body, the Syrian National Coalition, will replace the Syrian National Council, which has come under fire for being largely ineffective and having few leaders living in Syria. The new organization will include younger leaders and will have strong representation inside the country. It will also oversee the opposition's military and will manage the distribution of weapons and funds. The group's leader, Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, a Sunni preacher who has said he is willing to negotiate with Assad, said he hoped the new body would be viewed with legitimacy and receive financial assistance and weapons from the international community. France and Turkey were the first countries to officially recognize the new coalition. The U.S. gave its imprimatur in December.
The military started to show signs of weakening in November and December. The opposition began using surface-to-air missiles to shoot down military planes and had taken over important military bases, and the military started to fire Scud missiles at the rebel fighters. Nevertheless, Assad dug in his heels and refused to budge. Some observers speculated that he had few—if any—options for survival. If he fled or stepped down, the Alawites feeling betrayed might turn on him, and by remaining in power he risked being killed by rebel fighters.
While most nations have refrained from sending troops to back the opposition, several, including the U.S. have sent financial and humanitarian aid. The U.S. has resisted direct involvement in the war to avoid giving Iran—a close ally of Syria—reason to intervene. In December, amid growing concern that Assad was preparing to unleash chemical weapons on the opposition, President Barack Obama said such a move would cross a "red line" and would merit a response.
In a speech in early January, Assad repeated that he would not negotiate with the rebels, who he labeled "terrorists," and that he had no intention of stepping down.
By the end of February 2013, about 70,000 people, mostly civilians, had been killed in the war, 700,000 people fled the country, and some 2 million people declared themselves internally displaced by the war.
The U.S. immersed itself more deeply in the war at the end of February, when U.S. secretary of state John Kerry traveled to Syria and announced an additional $60 million in aid to the opposition Free Syrian Army. The assistance will not come in the form of weapons but will include food aid, medical supplies, and materials to help beef up security and infrastructure.
In March, the opposition coalition elected Ghassan Hitto, a Syrian-born American computer executive who until recently lived in Texas, as prime minister of the opposition Syrian National Coalition. He returned to the Middle East, working out of Turkey, to help improve the flow of humanitarian aid to the rebels. He faces the daunting tasks of forming a cabinet to run the rebel-held regions, organizing the rebel groups, and distributing the aid to those groups. Many members of the coalition, however, opposed the election of Hitto, and Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib resigned as president of the coalition. The turn of events left many wondering if the opposition coalition would survive the political turmoil. Despite the dissonance within the opposition, the Syrian National Coalition took Syria's seat at the summit meeting of the Arab League in March, with Khatib as its representative.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant group made up of fundamentalist Sunni Muslims and linked to Al Qaeda, was formed in April 2013 and is active in both Iraq and Syria. Foreign jihadists compose the bulk of the organization, which believes that an Islamic state should be created in what is now Syria and Iraq and ruled by strict shariah law. ISIS has fought other rebel groups as well as government troops, further destabilizing Syria. It has overtaken several towns in northern Syria, and terrorized anyone who does not adhere to its ideology.