Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In New Setback for Syrian Exile Group, Premier Quits

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In New Setback for Syrian Exile Group, Premier Quits

Article excerpt

The resignation of the prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, came two days after the group elected a new president as it tries to unify and arm the rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad.

The main Syrian exile opposition group suffered new turbulence at the top on Monday when the prime minister of its still-notional interim government resigned, according to a spokeswoman.

The resignation came two days after the group elected a new president as it tries to unify and arm the rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad and to help civilians in rebel-held areas of Syria.

The prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, was appointed in March to assemble an administration that would govern rebel-held territory. It was not immediately clear why he resigned.

Mr. Hitto had taken a hard line against holding any talks with the Assad government, a stance that posed difficulties as the United States and Russia tried to organize peace talks in Geneva. Mr. Hitto was chosen after some members of the exile group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, had criticized the coalition's president for floating the idea of negotiating with elements of the government.

The group's new president, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, also expressed skepticism about talks in his first public statements on Sunday, declaring that the coalition would not attend the Geneva talks unless its military position improved first.

Mr. Hitto, a naturalized American citizen from Damascus who lived in Texas for years, was seen as a capable technocrat. He helped manage the exile group's humanitarian aid effort. But he faced several challenges: He was seen by some rebels and activists as out of touch with the country, and some members of the often-squabbling coalition complained that he was a favorite of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and of its main foreign backer, Qatar. Many in the Syrian opposition say Qatar wields too much influence in the movement.

Mr. Jarba, who is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, a rival of Qatar for influence among the rebels, was seen as a counterweight to Mr. Hitto and his Muslim Brotherhood backers.

He has been busy in the first few days of his tenure, visiting several rebel-held towns inside Syria, announcing that the rebels will soon get a new shipment of sophisticated weapons from Saudi Arabia, and calling for a truce during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week. The truce proposal appeared intended to allow aid to reach besieged rebel-held neighborhoods in Homs, in the center of the country, where government forces are pressing an offensive. …

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