Suicide bombs hit army as talks intensify
Twin suicide bombings killed at least 20 soldiers in Syria’s south yesterday, as days of foreign-backed efforts to reorganise the opposition into a united body were coming to a head in the Qatari capital.
The opposition talks in Doha saw the Syrian National Council vying to keep its leading role in the face of US- and Arab-backed proposals to form a new government-in-waiting that could win deeper international support.
The final talks amid a wide range of dissident factions kicked off under a cloud of SNC reservations, with one senior official from the bloc saying an agreement was unlikely.
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad meanwhile suffered a new blow, as two suicide car bombings tore through an officers’ club in the southern city of Daraa, the cradle of Syria’s nearly 20-month uprising.
The blasts targeted the back garden of the club, killing at least 20 soldiers and possibly many more, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a key watchdog.
“The two bombings were the result of suicide attacks, carried out by two men who drove vehicles loaded with explosives into the garden a few minutes apart,” the Britain-based Observatory’s director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.
State news agency SANA reported that two car bomb attacks had hit the city, causing casualties and significant damage, but provided no further details.
Syrian rebels have increasingly turned to suicide attacks and car bombs in their fight against Assad’s regime, with jihadist groups such as the Al-Nusra Front often claiming responsibility.
Elsewhere, a rocket wounded two young girls in the capital’s Christian district of George Khoury, state television said.
In Doha, the SNC – once seen as the leading representative of the opposition but now derided in Washington as dominated by out-of-touch exiles – said it would put forward its own reform proposals, despite mounting frustration with its stance among other dissidents.
“We have started an open dialogue with our brothers and looked at their initiative,” the SNC’s new leader George Sabra said. “But we have our own point of view and our own ideas that we plan to put forward.”
SNC senior official Ahmad Ramadan told AFP it would be “difficult to reach agreement” in yesterday’s talks and that the meeting would more likely result in an announcement of “principles of cooperation so as not to end in failure”.
The SNC would hold on to its “leading role in the Syrian opposition” and “reject any attempt or initiative to cancel it,” he said.
The SNC had asked for two postponements in the talks while it elected its own new leadership last week, amid strong resistance from some members to what they see as the group’s sidelining in the new US-backed structure.
The SNC’s counter-proposal for reform envisages the formation of a provisional government pending a general congress of the opposition, according to a document seen by AFP.
The existing plan, inspired by leading dissident Riad Seif who is reportedly seen by Washington as a potential new opposition leader, envisages the formation of a transitional government, a military council to oversee rebel groups on the ground and a judiciary to operate in rebel-held areas.
The 10-member transitional government would be elected by a new 60-member umbrella group drawn from civilian activists and rebel fighters inside Syria as well as the exiles who have dominated the SNC.