Fierce fighting in Syria ahead of major effort to end crisis


BEIRUT – Two days before a major international gathering aimed at marshalling efforts to end the Syrian crisis, fierce fighting continued yesterday in the north and centre of the country while internal and exiled opposition forces jockeyed for influence and tried to better co-ordinate efforts to bring down President Bashar Assad.

The Local Co-ordinating Committees, a coalition of opposition groups in Syria, issued a statement complaining opponents of Assad were not represented at an Arab League meeting Thursday in Baghdad. The omission showed the league, from which the Syrian government is suspended, is not ready to take further steps against Damascus such as calling for Assad to step down, and certainly not to recognise the fractious opposition as representing Syria.

Activist groups also depicted a patchwork of unrest across Syria, from Homs and Hama in the centre to the east of the country and the area around Damascus, the capital, further south.

Activists posted video purporting to show snipers were preventing the government’s opponents from retrieving bodies from the streets. “The risk of being sniped [at] has made it impossible to retrieve bodies from the streets and give them a proper and dignified burial,” the committees said in a posting with video footage showing people using chains, a pulley and what appeared to be a cable to move bodies as automatic weapons fire was heard nearby.

The developments came after Syria’s exiled opposition groups met in Istanbul, where the Friends of Syria coalition, which includes many western and Arab governments, are to meet tomorrow. The exiles, grouped in the Syrian National Council, have been seeking an elusive unity to bolster their role as interlocutors with international powers trying to end Syria’s year-long uprising.

Those manoeuvres seemed to be matched by efforts among armed opponents of Assad inside Syria to establish a formal command structure. In a video shown on Al Arabiya satellite television, a man identified as an army defector with the rank of colonel said the armed opposition had formed military councils in Homs, Hama, Idlib, Damascus and Deir Azzour. These were now co-ordinating with the Free Syrian Army leadership outside the country.

The credentials of the leadership of this grouping have been questioned as the Free Syrian Army has been depicted as decentralised armed groups without a command structure. Fighters inside Syria routinely castigate leaders outside as failing to help them with weapons supplies, cash or cohesive political direction. – (New York Times service)