ISTANBUL: Syria’s main opposition has elected Ahmad Assi Jarba to lead the movement, which groups opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, spokesman Khaled Saleh said.
The news came on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in Istanbul, where the Syrian National Coalition is based, while on the ground in Syria fierce fighting continued as the army pressed forward with an assault on rebel-held districts.
Jarba, who represents the faction of veteran secular dissident Michel Kilo and who is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, obtained 55 votes in the deeply divided Syrian National Coalition on Saturday.
He edged out the group’s secretary general Mustafa al-Sabbagh, who obtained 52 votes in the second round of balloting at the group’s meeting in the Turkish city of Istanbul.
The opposition had been rudderless since the desparture in May of Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib in protest at the world’s “inaction” over Syria’s civil war.
In a short statement published after his election, Jarba said his “priority is to manage developments on the ground in Syria, particularly at Homs”, the central city which was suffering an eighth straight day of assault from Assad’s troops.
Among the rebels’ Western sympathisers, France was swift to congratulate Jarba on his win, saying that his election reinforced the coalition as “the legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki later said: “The United States welcomes the July 6 election of Syrian Coalition President Ahmed Assi al-Jarba, and looks forward to working with him and with his team.
“We hope to make progress together with President Jarba to prevent the total collapse of Syria into chaos and rebuild its social fabric.”