Syrian opposition factions are gathering in Qatar to seek agreement on leadership for a transitional administration that could step in as a stopgap government if rebel forces topple Bashar Assad’s regime.
Thursday’s planned meeting in Doha marks the most comprehensive bid to bring together various Syrian opposition groups and show world leaders a credible alternative to Assad.
The Syrian National Council has acted as the international face of the revolution, but it’s been unable to unite all dozens of disparate rebel factions under one banner.
Defected general in Saudi Arabia
Among the potential guiding forces for a transitional team is Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, one of the most senior figures to defect from Assad’s regime. He is urging all opposition forces to unite.
Qatar is a leading backer of the Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile, Tlass met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo on Thursday after visiting Saudi Arabia, where he said he was working on a plan to end the Syrian conflict.
Turkey, once a close political ally of Syria, has denounced the violence meted out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and is sheltering some 44,000 Syrian refugees.
The Turkish foreign ministry said it would not release any information on Thursday’s meeting, which came the same day as Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat published an interview with Tlass, who said he was working on a plan to end the conflict, save Syria from sectarianism and rebuild the country without Assad playing a role.
The roadmap would involve “honorable” Syrians, including members of the present regime whose hands are “not stained with blood,” Tlass said.
“I’m trying as much as I can to unite honorable Syrians inside and outside the country to create a roadmap that could end Syria’s crisis,” Tlass told the paper during his visit to Saudi Arabia.
“I will contact all honorable people willing to build Syria, whether they were from the (opposition) Syrian National Council, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, and honorable people even if they were from within the regime,” he said.
Arabs call for U.N. resolution
Meanwhile, Arab nations announced plans on Wednesday to go to the U.N. General Assembly and seek approval of a resolution calling for a political transition and establishment of a democratic government in Syria following the Security Council’s failure to address the escalating crisis.
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi and Qatari diplomat Abdulrahman al-Hamadi announced plans to seek action by the 193-member world body, where there are no vetoes, during a Security Council debate on the Middle East.
Last week, Russia and China again vetoed a Western-backed Security Council resolution aimed at pressuring Assad’s government to stop the violence by threatening sanctions if he didn’t withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days.
“The Arab states have decided to head to the General Assembly over the situation in Syria,” al-Mouallimi told the council.
Al-Hamadi said the Syrian government’s threat to use chemical and biological weapons, and other threats to the region, “have made us feel even further regret with the inability of the Security Council to deal with the Syrian crisis in an effective manner.”
Therefore, he said, “the Arab group in New York is going to the General Assembly of the United Nations to deal with the serious threat represented by the Syrian crisis.”
The push for action in the General Assembly followed an appeal earlier Wednesday by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the world to unite in its response to Syria’s civil war and do all it can to stop what he called the slaughter taking place there.
Syria downplays envoys’ defection
Syria’s regime confirmed on Thursday the defection of three diplomats, but downplayed its importance and indirectly accused Qatar of encouraging “national division.”
The foreign ministry confirmed the defections of Lamia Hariri, charge d’affaires in Cyprus, her husband Abdel Latif al-Dabbagh, ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and Mohammed Tahsin al-Fakir, security attache in Oman.
“These ministry employees chose to abandon their diplomatic posts and go to a certain Arab capital, which is funding and encouraging these type of staff defections,” the ministry said, referring to Qatar, where the diplomats have reportedly fled.
The ministry said Hariri was “merely a diplomat at the embassy in Cyprus, temporarily charged with a caretaker role pending the appointment of a charge d’affaires or ambassador.”
It added that her husband, the Syrian ambassador to UAE was “no longer at his post as of June 4.”
Fakir, the ministry said, “had no diplomatic or security function and was simply an administrative employee whose mission had expired in May and who was scheduled to retire.”
The White House on Wednesday called the defections evidence that Assad’s days are “numbered.”