Secret Meeting Joins Syrian Opposition

Posted December 2nd, 2011 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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The Syrian government's increasingly violent struggle to maintain its grip on power appears to be uniting some of the groups hoping to hasten its downfall.

Officials with both the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army say leaders from the two groups secretly met earlier this week in the southern Turkish province of Hatay and have begun working on what is being described as a joint action plan. And in a significant concession, they say the Free Syrian Army agreed to scale back its attacks on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Free Syrian Army spokesman Maher Nuaimi tells the Los Angeles Times the group agreed it “will not attack units that are staying in their barracks. But Nuaimi also said the armed group would fight “any unit that enters our cities and tries to kill our people.”

The concession would be a major change for the Free Syrian Army and its more than 10,000 estimated defectors from the Syrian military, which had shown an increased willingness in recent weeks to take the fight directly to Mr. Assad and the Syrian army.

Syrian National Council Executive Committee member Ahmed Ramadan tells the Hurriyet Daily News the Free Syrian Army will increasingly focus on protecting protesters and that it would also allow the council to remain the public face of the opposition movement.

Monday's secret meeting was not the first between the Turkish-based council and the Syrian-based fighting force, but officials say it was the first to bring the Syrian National Council leader Bourhan Ghalioun and the Free Syrian Army's Colonel Riad al-Assad face-to-face.

Officials say more meeting between the two groups are planned, even as a joint commission works to coordinate their approach.

One of the ongoing concerns is the possibility Syria's many opposition groups could fracture, especially since many members of the Free Syrian Army are believed to be from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority.

Syrian National Council spokeswoman Rima Filhan tried to downplay such fears. She told the Los Angeles Times Free Army officials assured the council the military movement was not sectarian and, further, that it would protect Syria from chaos once President Assad is finally toppled.