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Syria opposition meets in Istanbul to choose new leader

Potential candidates include Hadi el-Bahra who is supported by Jarba and is backed by Saudi Arabia, where he lives

Published: Updated:

The Syrian National Coalition, the main exiled opposition group seeking the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, was Tuesday meeting outside Istanbul to choose a new president tasked with keeping alive the campaign to unseat the Syrian regime.

The Western-backed coalition, which was formed at a meeting in Doha in 2012 to unite various anti-Assad groups, has been criticized for its failure to secure significant military and political backing for rebels inside the country.

The meeting is also overshadowed by the advance of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria who have now declared the imposition of a caliphate on swathes of territory in both countries.

A decision on the successor to Ahmad Jarba as the new leader of the coalition could be made late Tuesday at the meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sile or on Wednesday, sources close to the talks told AFP.

Jarba has headed the coalition since July 2013 but failed to make an impact in uniting the opposition and obtaining significant Western military support.

The West now appears more preoccupied with the rise of Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq than heeding the Syrian opposition’s calls for arms and even military intervention to oust the regime.

The Syrian opposition has been riven by internal conflicts linked to disputes between its main foreign sponsors, notably Saudi Arabia and its influential Gulf Arab neighbor Qatar, but its members are now trying to reach a consensus.

“Negotiations between members of the coalition’s general assembly on electing a new presidential committee are currently taking place and there are efforts to reach a compromise,” Syrian National Coalition member and veteran opponent Samir Nashar told AFP in Beirut.

Nashar said the coalition is under pressure to find a compromise that suits the interests of both Doha and Riyadh, as well as the United States.

Potential candidates include Hadi el-Bahra who is supported by Jarba and is backed by Saudi Arabia, where he lives. He headed the opposition delegation to the failed Geneva 2 talks earlier this year.

The coalition has been recognized by dozens of countries and international bodies, including the United States and Britain, as a legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

The new leader will be the Syrian National Coalition’s fourth president after Jarba, veteran opponent George Sabra and its first leader, Moaz al-Khatib.