Saudi-backed Jarba defeats Qatar’s point man in Syria opposition
ISTANBUL - Syria's main political 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, obtained 55 votes in the deeply divided Syrian National Coalition, edging out the group's secretary general Mustafa al-Sabbagh, who obtained 52 votes.
Jarba is a tribal figure from the eastern province of Hasaka who has connections with Saudi Arabia. He defeated businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, Qatar's point man in the opposition.
"A change was needed," Adib Shishakly, a senior official in the coalition, said.
"The old leadership of the coalition had failed to offer the Syrian people anything substantial and was preoccupied with internal politics. Ahmad Jarba is willing to work with everybody," he added.
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 the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Saleh said Jarba would not make a statement Saturday "due to the gravity of the situation in Homs", the central Syrian city which was suffering an eighth straight day of assault from Assad's troops.
Recognised by dozens of states and organisations as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the umbrella group has been rudderless after the departure in May of Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib in protest at the world's "inaction" over Syria's civil war.
The nomination of a new chief had initially been mooted for the end of May but was postponed after eight days of talks stalled in the face of conflicting views on the future direction of the coalition.
Under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other regional powers, the opposition agreed in the May meeting to accept new groups under the umbrella of the coalition, lessening the influence of a strong Muslim Brotherhood faction backed by Doha.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that the United States and Russia were committed to holding a peace conference on Syria but that it would likely take place after August.
The election of Jarba took place after a series of setbacks for the rebels including the fall of Qusayr to Assad's forces, a former rebel bastion near the Lebanese border, aided by fighters from Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement.
Regime troops' current targets are Homs, in central Syria, and rebel bastions near the capital Damascus. UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday expressed fear for 2,500 "trapped" civilians in Homs city.