Twelve candidates are running for interim prime minister of a government to rule rebel-controlled areas in Syria, the country’s main opposition group said Sunday.
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition is set to elect the prime minister this week at a gathering of in Istanbul, Turkey.
The opposition, still largely based in exile, first raised the idea of an interim government months ago. Divisions among opposition figures caused repeated delays in forming it.
Some opposition members favor the creation of an executive body with limited powers to administer rebel-held territory.
Meanwhile, the current Coalition list includes virtual unknowns, as well as some prominent members of the opposition. But the latest effort to set up a government in the rebel-held areas comes after two full years of conflict in Syria.
Opposition fighters making gains
In recent months, rebels have seized additional territory and now control large swaths of northern and eastern Syria. President Bashar Assad and his loyalists have successfully defended regime strongholds, including the capital, Damascus.
Opposition media reported on Sunday that the Free Syrian Army was in control of Syrian officers’ positions in Dhab’a, a suburb in the central province Homs. They also surrounded the airport in Homs.
Syrian opposition fighters have also seized several weapons depots in the village of Khan Toman in Aleppo province after days of fierce clashes, a military source told AFP on Sunday.
“Opposition fighters gained control over weapons and ammunition stores in the village of Khan Toman in southern Aleppo province on Saturday after fierce fighting that went on for more than three days,” the source said.
In the southern Hauran Plain near the Israeli-occupied Golan Height, Syrian rebels on Sunday seized a Syrian military intelligence compound, rebel commanders said.
The frontier, quiet since Israel and Syria agreed on a U.S.-brokered ceasefire in 1974, has turned volatile in recent weeks, after opposition brigades stepped up attacks against army and intelligence compounds dotting the agricultural plain stretching from the border with Jordan to the Damascus outskirts.
State institutions have all but collapsed in rebel-held areas, leaving many communities to fend for themselves with little electricity and sometimes no running water.
Supporters of an interim government say it could help restore order in rebel-held territories, including the northern city of Raqqa and parts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.
Others have warned that such a move is premature and that an opposition-run government would cement Syria’s fragmentation.
There is also concern that Islamist militias would not recognize the authority of an interim government. Many of the senior figures in the Syrian National Coalition live in exile, and might have difficulties asserting their authority in Syria.
After disagreements and delays, the Istanbul conference is set to begin Monday. The vote for prime minister is to be completed by Tuesday, said Khalid Saleh, a Turkey-based opposition spokesman.
Most of the candidates are technocrats, he said. He said they include Ghassan Hitto, an IT manager who recently moved from Dallas, Texas, to southern Turkey; Osama Kadi, an economist from London, Ontario; Assad Asheq Mustafa, a former Syrian agriculture minister, and Walid Al Zoabi, a Dubai businessman.
He said two of the names were not released because the candidates live in government-controlled areas in Syria.
The list could be whittled down before Tuesday’s votes, as some of those nominated may decide not to run, he said.
The Syria conflict began two years ago, initially as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad.
In response to a brutal regime crackdown, protesters took up arms, and by last summer, the insurgency turned into a civil war. The U.N. estimates that 70,000 Syrians have been killed and that 4 million of the country’s 22 million people have been displaced.