US declares support for united Syrian opposition against Assad

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The Syrian opposition on Sunday signed a deal in Doha to establish a national coalition aimed at combating Bashar al-Assad’s regime, an AFP journalist witnessed.

In a copy of the document obtained by AFP, the opposition parties agreed to work “for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars,” and rule out any dialogue with Assad’s government.

The opposition agreed to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas.

The agreement was signed by Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, who is the newly elected president of the coalition, and Georges Sabra, head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is the main member of the new coalition.

Khatib, a moderate originally from Damascus who quit Syria three months ago, will lead the National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition, formed after the SNC agreed to the new group.

A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government after the regime has fallen.

State spokesman said the United States congratulated the opposition groups on their achievement and thanked the government of Qatar for its support.

“We will work with the National Coalition to ensure that our humanitarian and non-lethal assistance serves the needs of the Syrian people,” he said.

Syria’s opposition agreed to unite after marathon talks in Doha, electing a moderate cleric as its leader with a prominent dissident and a female opposition figure named as his deputies.

Here are brief profiles of the three top figures of the newly-formed National Coalition:

Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib: is a former imam at the Umayyad Mosque in the heart of Damascus, and an independent political dissident who was arrested several times this year for publicly calling for the fall of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Khatib, 52, who was forbidden by authorities from speaking at mosques, fled Syria for Qatar earlier this year.

Though a prominent opponent of Assad’s regime, Khatib is not allied to any political party, and as such has been perceived by many other dissidents as being a consensus candidate.

He comes from a Sufi Muslim background and is unrelated to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other anti-regime Islamist party.

Khatib has studied international relations and diplomacy. He has long advocated for peaceful activism against the regime, and despite being a Muslim sheikh, he also has the support of many secular regime critics.

Though Khatib’s family is from central Damascus, he played a key role in sparking the uprising in the Eastern Ghouta area, east of the capital, which is now home to some of the fiercest and best-organized rebel groups.

Riad Seif: is a former MP and well-known dissident who initiated the Doha talks that led to the uniting of the Syrian opposition, but ruled himself out of the top job over health problems.

He was locked up for a total of eight years by the regime for calling for democratic reforms, and is one of the “Damascus Spring” figures suppressed by Assad’s regime, so named for the period of relative openness following Bashar’s accession to power after his father’s death in 2000.

Seif, 66, participated in the Syrian uprising that began in March 2011, was arrested and beaten during two demonstrations, and finally went into exile in June of this year.

Born into a family of modest means in Damascus, he began working in a textiles factory aged 12, before eventually opening up his own workshop that later became a profitable factory of its own.

Seif ran as an independent candidate in the 1994 and 1998 parliamentary elections, and is one of the few MPs to have openly criticized the regime and its economic policies.

After Hafez al-Assad’s death in June 2000, and spurred on by promises of greater political freedoms by Bashar, he organized debates at his home while pursuing official action in parliament, including demanding an end to the Baath party’s monopoly on power.

Shortly thereafter, he was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for wanting to “illegally change the constitution.” He was also imprisoned from 2008 to 2010 after calling for democratic reforms.

Suhair al-Atassi: is the co-founder of the General Committee of the Syrian Revolution, a group that monitors army offensives as well as victims of violence, forwarding such information to the media. The organization wants to raise the profile of grassroots activists within the Syrian opposition.

An elegant blonde from a prominent secular Sunni family that is opposed to the regime and hails from Homs, the “capital of the revolution” in the center of Syria, Atassi spent seven months in hiding within Syria, where she received death threats, before moving to France at the end of 2011.

A longtime opponent of Assad’s regime, she has said she left for France not because of the danger of being in Syria, but to regain some freedom of movement to carry out her work as an activist.

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