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Main Syrian opposition forms military council

Friday, March 2, 2012
By Zeina Karam, AP


BEIRUT--Syria's main opposition group formed a military council Thursday to organize and unify all armed resistance to President Bashar Assad's regime as the conflict veered ever closer to civil war.

The Paris-based leadership of the Syrian National Council said its plan was coordinated with the most potent armed opposition force — the Free Syrian Army — made up mainly of army defectors.

“The revolution started peacefully and kept up its peaceful nature for months, but the reality today is different and the SNC must shoulder its responsibilities in the face of this new reality,” SNC president Burhan Ghalioun told reporters in Paris, saying any weapons flowing into the country should go through the council.

Still he tried to play down the risks of all-out warfare.

“We want to control the use of weapons so that there won't be a civil war,” he said. “Our aim is to help avoid civil war.”

The SNC has called for arming rebels in the past, but this was the first time it sought to organize the fighters under one umbrella. The plan coincides with a ferocious government offensive on the opposition stronghold of Homs in central Syria that has been going on for nearly a month.

International pressure on the regime has been growing more intense by the day. The U.N.'s top human rights body voted Thursday to condemn Syria for its “widespread and systematic violations” against civilians, and the UK and Switzerland closed their embassies in Damascus over worsening security. The U.S. closed its embassy in February.

But the U.S. has not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict because of Syria's complex web of allegiances in the region that extend to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, the Syrian regime showed a new determination to crush its opponents, vowing to “cleanse” the rebel-held district of Baba Amr in Homs from “gunmen,” as activists reported troops massing outside.

Syrian activists said government forces have cut off communications to Bab Amr, jamming satellite phone signals as they mass for an apparent ground assault. The neighborhood has been under siege for about four weeks and hundreds have died in shelling.

Authorities had previously blocked land and mobile phone lines, but activists were able to communicate with the outside world with satellite phones.

The activist Revolutionary Council of Homs said it could no longer reach anyone inside Baba Amr. All satellite signals were jammed, it said.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there was “fierce fighting” at the entrances to Baba Amr and troops have been unable to enter so far.

Ghalioun said regime forces are facing strong resistance from the rebels in Baba Amr.

U.N. Human Rights vote

Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday voted 37 in favor and three against a resolution proposed by Turkey that calls on Syria to immediately stop all attacks on civilians and grant unhindered access to aid groups.

Three members of the 47-nation body abstained and four didn't vote.

Russia, China and Cuba objected to the resolution.

The Geneva-based council's vote carries no legal weight but diplomats consider it a strong moral signal that may encourage a similar resolution in the powerful U.N. Security Council.

The U.N. estimated that more than 7,500 people have been killed since the anti-Assad struggle started in March 2011.

In Kuwait, the parliament Thursday passed a non-binding resolution calling on the government to help arm the Syrian opposition and to break diplomatic ties with Assad's regime. A day earlier, parliament passed a non-binding resolution urging the government to recognize the SNC as the country's sole representatives.

There was no immediate reaction from the rulers in the oil-rich Gulf state. Some lawmakers also have proposed severing diplomatic ties with Assad's regime, but the issue has not come up for full debate.

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