Syria’s fractured opposition is meeting on Thursday for a debate over forming a transitional government to replace the regime of Bashar al-Assad, now fighting hard to reverse rebel advances.
The secretariat of the Syrian National Council (SNC) — the biggest single coalition of anti-Assad groups — is convening in the Qatari capital, Doha, where SNC sources say that Riyad Seif, a respected dissident, is a leading candidate to head a “consensus-based” civilian administration.
But Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, the most important member of Assad’s inner circle yet to defect, is also being mooted as the head of a supreme military council that could keep the armed forces intact and loyal.
General Mustafa al-Sheikh, one of the first generals to join the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), said he was backing Tlass. But there were objections that the Republican Guard officer is too closely associated with the regime. Others say he is tainted by the record of his father, who was defence minister under Assad’s father, Hafez.
The SNC also faces credibility problems. It is divided internally — between liberals and Islamists and between Arabs and Kurds — and at odds with other groups, such as the National Co-ordination Bureau.
Govt pushes rebels out of Damascus
After a series of setbacks, President Bashar Assad’s forces are solidifying their grip on Damascus, knowing that its fall would almost certainly spell the regime’s end.
The regime deployed overwhelming force, shelling residential areas and targeting rebels with machine guns and missiles fired from attack helicopters.
On Tuesday, the government appeared to have largely retaken the capital. Activists acknowledge that most fighters have withdrawn.