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Syrian Leadership Changes as Violence Continues

Beth Kanopsic

As violence continues to brew in Egypt, the Syrian civil war has been overshadowed in the media. However, dramatic shifts have taken place in the leadership of both the opposition and al-Asad forces as fighting continues.

On the opposition side, Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ghassan Hitto announced his resignation after only four months as prime minister. The rebel leader was tasked with creating an interim government to control rebel-held areas. Hitto remained mistrusted by many in the anti-Asad opposition, who saw him as being too close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. Hitto resigned on Monday, acknowledging insurmountable difficulties in forming the needed interim government. He explained in an online statement that although he will not continue as prime minister, he will continue working for the interests of the revolution.

Ghassan Hitto (L) speaks to the press after he was elected prime minister of the interim government of Syria’s opposition. (Photo: Islam.ru)

As government troops advance on rebel-held areas around Homs, the opposition is grasping at anything that could aid them in their fight. In another attempt to unite al-Asad’s opponents, the SNC elected Ahmad Assi Jarba as the Syrian opposition’s president on Saturday, filling a post that has been empty for months. The SNC convened in Istanbul and the 114-member council took a poll with Jarba receiving almost 50 percent of the votes. The opposition coalition also elected three vice presidents, Mohammed Farouk Taifour, Salem al-Mislit, and Suhair Atassi. The new opposition leadership reflects an internal policy shift toward that leadership by Saudi Arabia and the United States, and away from Qatar.

Hitto’s resignation and Jarba’s election come alongside a complete restructuring of the Baath leadership. The Baath party, headed by Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Asad replaced sixteen of its top officials, including Vice-President Farouq al-Sharaa. The vice president’s loyalty to al-Asad had been suspect since the beginning of the 2011 uprising. He will remain as vice president but will have greatly diminished power.

These political shifts come as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appealed to both sides in Syria to cease fighting for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. “For the sake of the Syrian people, therefore, I would like to call on all parties in Syria to respect this religious obligation for at least, at a minimum, one month,” Ban pleaded. Despite the periodic efforts of both the United States and Russia to find common ground to end the fighting, the myriad groups that have been absorbed in the conflict since March 2011 remain at odds and will likely fight right through Ramadan.