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Cleric, Ahmed al-Khatib, elected as head of Syria’s new opposition bloc

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Syrian opposition factions which agreed on Sunday in Qatar to form a new coalition to fight President Bashar al-Assad have elected cleric Ahmed al-Khatib to head the bloc, AFP reported dissidents as saying.

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 Syrian National Council (SNC) agreed to the new group.

Meanwhile, influential businessman Riad Seif, who proposed the U.S.-backed initiative to set up an umbrella group of opposition groups inside and outside Syria, was elected as deputy president along with Suhair al-Atassi, a well-known female activist, Reuters reported.

Syrian opposition groups have signed an initial agreement to form a new coalition of forces fighting to end the rule of President Assad, a Syrian delegate at talks in Doha said on Sunday.

“An initial deal has been signed. The evening session will be for electing the president of the body and his deputy,” Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, a Muslim Brotherhood delegate at the talks, told reporters.

The new body, made up of groups inside and outside Syria, would be called the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, he added.

The United States and Qatar, which has bankrolled the opposition to Assad and played a major role in Arab diplomacy against him, have kept up pressure on the SNC to agree a deal immediately, one diplomatic source told Reuters.

Both countries have urged the foreign-based SNC to join an anti-Assad grouping likely to be called the Syrian National Coalition. Seif has proposed that this would include armed rebel groups fighting in Syria such as the Free Syrian Army.

The deal is based on an initiative by Seif that envisages the formation of a transitional government, a military council to oversee rebel groups on the ground and a judiciary to operate in rebel-held areas.

The 10-member transitional government would be elected by a new 60-member umbrella group drawn from civilian activists and rebel fighters inside Syria, as well as by the exiles who have dominated the SNC.

Anti-Assad protests erupted nearly 20 months ago, meeting a violent response which led to a conflict that has cost more than 38,000 lives and threatens to spill into neighboring countries.

With some of the countries’ areas now being under their control, rebel gains have been limited by Assad’s control of the skies through his air force in fighting that has devastated Syrian cities.