Syrian opposition meets for key conference

Leaders of the Syrian opposition are due to hold a conference in the Qatari capital to reorganise their ranks, in the latest attempt to form a unified political and military anti-government front.
The US is pushing a proposal suggesting a new leadership, with fewer Syrian exiles and more military commanders, be elected at the meeting in Doha, to be held over five days, beginning on Sunday.

There remain serious doubts, however, over whether the divided and ideologically diverse factions can form a unified structure that the international community can engage with.
Hundreds of figures from the Syrian opposition are taking part in the conference, all seeking a way to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and end the 19-month conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
There will, however, be some notable absentees, including the National Co-ordination Body, a rival to the Syrian National Council (SNC), and the National Democratic Front.
'Syrian National Initiative'
The key issue will be whether the SNC, which consists largely of Syrian exiles and academics, will back a US initiative to set up a new 50-member leadership team with more representatives from inside Syria.

Under the new plan, called the Syrian National Initiative, the new leadership would include members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an armed group of rebels that has been battling the Syrian army for months. It would also include members of other political groups and local councils in Syria.
The US-backed initiative was put forward by Riad Seif, a veteran Syrian opposition figure who has emerged as a strong candidate to lead a transitional government in Syria.
The SNC's current leadership would be included in some form, but its influence would be significantly diluted under the new plan.
In addition to the leadership body, the proposal would establish a military council, a judicial committee and a transitional government to be made up of technocrats.
Burhan Ghalioun, a senior SNC member, said on Saturday that the group is willing to consider the idea, but has not made a decision on it yet. Potential members of the new leadership will discuss the initiative during Thursday's session of the conference.
"We have agreed to attend the meeting, but there is no agreement to adopt the initiative as it is," Ghalioun told the Associated Press news agency.
Foreign officials, particularly from the United States, have long complained that the lack of a cohesive and unified opposition group has held back more robust foreign involvement in the campaign to topple President Assad and his government.
The SNC has been plagued from the start by infighting, splits and frustrations over its failure to broaden its membership. An opposition meeting in Cairo earlier this year descended into chaos, shouting matches and walkouts.
"We are hopeful that if this leadership structure can emerge in a new and enhanced way, it will be an organisation that the international community can work with to better direct assistance, humanitarian assistance, non-lethal assistance, and other kinds of assistance," Victoria Nuland, a US State department spokesperson, said on Friday.
She said the US also hopes this new body will encourage more defections and give the Russians and Chinese, who have both vetoed previous UN Security Council initiatives on Syria, "an address" where they can seek answers to questions about a post-Assad future.

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