Members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) meet on July 4, 2013, in Istanbul
Members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) attend the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition forces meeting on July 4, 2013, in Istanbul. Syria's main political opposition have elected Ahmad Assi Jarba to lead the movement which groups opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, spokesman Khaled Saleh said. © Ozan Kose - AFP/File
Members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) meet on July 4, 2013, in Istanbul
AFP
Last updated: July 6, 2013

Syria's main opposition picks new leader

Syria's main opposition on Saturday elected Ahmad Assi Jarba to lead the movement which groups opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, spokesman Khaled Saleh said.

Jarba, who represents the faction of veteran secular dissident Michel Kilo and who is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, obtained 55 votes in the deeply divided Syrian National Coalition.

He edged out the group's secretary general Mustafa al-Sabbagh, who obtained 52 votes in the second round of balloting at the group's meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The opposition had been rudderless since the departure in May of Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib in protest at the world's "inaction" over Syria's civil war.

The selection of a new chief had initially been mooted for the end of May but was postponed after eight days of talks were stalled by conflicting views on the future direction of the coalition and attempts by other countries in the region to influence the outcome.

Born in 1969 in the northeastern city of Qamishli, on the border with Turkey, Jarba is a Sunni Muslim whose work for the opposition involved convincing Arab and Western nations to arm the rebels.

During Saturday's vote, the 114 members of the coalition also elected three vice presidents -- Suheir Atassi, Mohammed Farouk Tayfur and Salim Muslit.

Badr Jamous was voted secretary general of the umbrella organisation recognised by dozens of states and organisations as legitimately representing the Syrian people.

In a short statement published after his election, Jarba said his "priority is to manage developments on the ground in Syria, particularly at Homs", the central city which was suffering an eighth straight day of assault from Assad's troops.

Earlier Saturday, Saleh had said Jarba would not make a statement immediately "due to the gravity of the situation in Homs".

Among the rebels' Western sympathisers, France was swift to congratulate Jarba on his win, saying that his election reinforced the coalition as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people".

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later said, "The United States welcomes the July 6 election of Syrian Coalition President Ahmed Assi al-Jarba, and looks forward to working with him and with his team. "We hope to make progress together with President Jarba to prevent the total collapse of Syria into chaos and rebuild its social fabric."

Psaki said the United States was looking "to President Jarba and the new leaders to reach out to all Syrian communities and bring greater unity of purpose and further organization to the Syrian Coalition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people.

"A united opposition is essential to achieve a negotiated political solution in which Bashar al-Assad steps down, and a new transition government leads all Syrians to dignity, freedom and hope for the future."

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