Assad regime gains momentum as opposition shows signs of division

Assad regime gains momentum as opposition shows signs of division

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bolstered by their recapture of most of the opposition stronghold Idlib, attacked opposition hotbeds in different parts of Syria on Wednesday as the opposition began to show signs of fracture with the resignations of three prominent members of the Syrian National Council (SNC), Today's Zaman reported.

Syrian forces regained control over most of Idlib on Tuesday, after a three-day operation that came soon after a similar offensive to dislodge the opposition from another key area that it had controlled -- the Baba Amr district in Homs. The two victories already gave Assad's regime momentum as it tries to crush the armed opposition fighters a year after the unrest first started.

Assad is also bolstered by a pledge from ally Russia that it will continue to sell weapons to Syria, increasing prospects that Assad will not bow to the uprising and that Syria may be on the verge of a Balkan-style civil war that could continue for years. The latest signs of fracture on the side of the opposition have further exacerbated concerns over a prolonged civil war in Syria. "I can no longer see myself inside the group because the leadership lacks clarity and does not treat the rest of the council democratically," said Haitham al-Maleh, a prominent rights campaigner who resigned from the SNC's three-person Executive Committee on Tuesday.

Maleh told Today's Zaman that he resigned because council leader Burhan Ghalioun has failed to discuss key decisions with the council and has been slow to extend support to the armed opposition that opposes Damascus on the ground. Maleh's resignation was joined by the departures from the SNC this week of prominent members Kamal al-Labwani, a long-time Damascus opponent and leading figure in the SNC, and Catherine al-Talli, a Washington-based human rights lawyer. A report by Reuters on Monday suggested that more resignations may follow, quoting an anonymous source within the SNC as saying that as many as 60 of the 270 member group may soon resign. "The leadership does not want to play as a group," said Maleh. "Ghalioun did not consult other members of the group when he wrote his speech for the meeting of the 'Friends of the Syrian People' meeting in Tunisia, and he did not even tell other members of the council that he was going to meet with Kofi Annan in Ankara this week. ... The group is not a council, it is run like the Baath party."

The SNC has aspired since its formation in September of last year to be seen as the legitimate voice of Syria's opposition movement, but the effort has been limited by infighting between the group's wide range of ethnic and political factions. Activists in Syria have claimed that the group's leadership, dominated by exiled dissidents, is not in tune with the anti-regime movement inside Syria. The SNC has found itself hard-pressed to woo Syria's diverse range of ethnic minorities, who have been favored for 42 years by the Assad family's Alawite-minority regime.

Maleh on Wednesday dismissed the possibility that the SNC could become an effective platform for opposing the regime, and announced his plans to create a parallel group that would focus on delivering arms and money to the coalition of anti-Assad militias collectively known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The SNC's own decision to assist the armed opposition has been harshly criticized by the FSA itself, who declared that the FSA wanted "actions and not just talk."

Meanwhile, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan received Syrian response to a group of proposals Annan tabled and is due to brief the UN Security Council on Friday about his peace mission to Syria on Saturday. Council diplomats say that Annan's assessment of the crisis will be crucial to a bid by the United States and its European allies to pass a resolution on Syria. Russia and China have already twice vetoed draft resolutions condemning Syria. Negotiations on a resolution are expected to accelerate after Annan's briefing, diplomats said.

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