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Syria’s opposition chooses president, formally signs coalition deal

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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.

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.

Prominent dissident Riad Seif, who had tabled an initiative to unite the opposition, and female opposition figure Suhair al-Atassi, were elected as vice presidents of the coalition.

Khatib had served in the past as the imam of the central Umayyad mosque in the Syrian capital before he was banned from leading prayers. He was arrested in 2011 and in 2012 over supporting the uprising before he left the country.

He is seen as an independent opponent without belonging to any political groups, and is not linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist party.

Atassi comes from the central flashpoint city of Homs, and belongs to a family that has been active in the secular opposition. She is not a member of the SNC.

In addition, Mustafa Sabbagh was elected as a secretary general of the coalition.

Meanwhile, the post of a third vice president will remain vacant for a Kurdish figure to be elected. Seif told AFP the post is allocated to the Kurds, who have asked to postpone the vote.

The SNC had come under intense Arab and Western pressure to accept the unity plan amid growing frustration among other groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The inked agreement stipulates that the bloc will be open to all factions, and will form a provisional government after gaining international recognition.

It will also support the unification of the revolutionary military councils, and will work for the fall of the regime and to dismantle the security organs, while ruling out any dialogue with the Damascus regime.

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab who defected in August hailed the agreement as “an advanced step towards toppling the regime.”

Qatar

Meanwhile, Qatar said on Sunday that the new Syrian opposition should be recognized as the only legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

“Trust us that we will strive from now on to have this new body recognised completely by all parties ... as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” Reuters reported Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim saying.

He said Qatar would lead discussions at the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, and with the United States and European allies, to win the group such recognition.