Opposition gathers pace in Syria

19 September 2011

Hundreds of opponents of the brutal regime of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad have come together in Damascus in a bid to unite the country’s opposition groups and pave the way for democracy.

After five months of violent unrest across Syria, leading anti-government figures attended an assembly a short distance from the Syrian capital on Saturday. The move is being billed as a significant by observers, given that previous attempts to unite anti-government groups have largely taken place outside the country.

The Damascus meeting comes just days after many high profile Syrian exiles met in Istanbul, Turkey, where they agreed to form a National Council – similar to Libya’s National Transitional Council which has worked tirelessly to depose Col Muammar Gaddafi. The Syrian National Council in Turkey will consist of 140 anti-government figures, half of whom currently live in exile.

The Syrian uprising, which began in earnest in March, has attracted a wide following of political parties, individuals and groups committed to widespread social, political and economic reform – and the definitive departure of President Assad.

Although there have been numerous attempts to unite the Syrian opposition movement, none has so far resulted in success. The latest opposition meetings – both inside and outside Syria – may be a sign that a coordinated anti-government group is on the brink of emerging, observers say.

Meanwhile, the Arab League’s Secretary-General, Nabil Elaraby, has held talks with Bashar al Assad after the League’s 22 members finally urged Syria’s leadership to find a solution to its five-month stalemate with protesters.

Elaraby stressed the need for the Assad regime to adhere to its commitment to implement far-reaching reforms, a position reiterated by Arab League members in Cairo this week. The League also agreed to send a high profile, fact-finding delegation to Syria as soon as the violence has ceased.

Yet, violent attacks across Syria show no sign of let up. At least 25 people were killed in Hama – while 100 people were arrested in Madaya and Zabadani in recent days, according to international media reports.

The Socialist International, which has monitored the unrest in Syria from the outset, repeated its calls for an immediate end to the killings and intimidation, saying: “As we approach the six-month anniversary of the popular uprising in Syria, we again urge President Assad to end his campaign of violence.

“It is unacceptable that more than 2000 people have lost their lives in a legitimate struggle for basic rights and freedoms. We offer our support to what we hope will be a united opposition – and we reiterate our solidarity with the Syrian people. It is imperative that democracy in Syria prevail.”