Syria's SNC Insists on Leading Role

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The opposition Syrian National Council, meeting in Qatar to broaden its membership, said Tuesday that the "cornerstone" umbrella group should preserve its leading role in any revamp.

SNC chief Abdel Basset Sayda also denounced the failure of the international community to act to end "massacres" being committed by forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

His remarks were made during a meeting of the SNC general assembly in the Qatari capital Doha, as the United States heaped pressure on the opposition to form a wider structure.

Sayda said the SNC would take part in a broad opposition meeting on Thursday called by host Qatar and the Arab League, but insisted on a leading role for the council.

"We will attend the meeting with an open heart and mind. But we would like to stress from the start the need to keep the SNC as the cornerstone of the Syrian opposition," said the SNC chairman.

"We think that any attempt to target the SNC, whether intentionally or not, will prolong the crisis," he added.

Opposition figures meeting in Doha are expected to discuss an initiative by leading dissident Riad Seif to unite all Syrian groups opposed to Assad.

The proposal, which seems to enjoy U.S. support but has encountered reservations from some SNC members, will top the agenda of the broader meeting on Thursday.

But the former head of the SNC, Burhan Ghalioun, feared that Thursday's meeting was aimed to abolish the council which seems to have fallen from grace in Washington.

"The council rejects taking part in a framework that aims to kill it off," Ghalioun told AFP.

"We are working to turn the (forthcoming) meeting from a conference aimed at killing the SNC to a conference that would continue the work started by the council," he said.

He warned that any "initiative forced onto the council would fail."

The SNC agreed Monday to revamp its structure to accommodate representatives of 13 other opposition factions and independents, spokesman Ahmad Kamel said.

But Washington appeared to play down the action, saying restructuring required more than numbers.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "We've said from the beginning... that we expect that the SNC itself will be part of the opposition structure that emerges from the Doha process... but that other groups in addition to the SNC will also be represented."

She said it was still unclear what other groups would be invited to join.

"Just broadening the numbers doesn't necessarily broaden the representation, so we think we have to see who they actually bring into the group," said Nuland.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called the SNC unrepresentative of opposition forces on the ground and said it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."

Ghalioun charged that Washington was trying to sacrifice the SNC to cover up for its failure.

"The Americans want us as a scapegoat to cover up their passiveness and inability," he said.

The SNC had hit back at the U.S. criticism on Friday, accusing Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division."

The SNC has sought to be the interlocutor between the international community and forces opposed to the Assad regime since its formation six months after the start of the uprising in March last year.

Sayda said Syrians felt abandoned in their fight to oust Assad almost 20 months into the conflict that began as peaceful protests. The conflict has cost more than 36,000 lives dead so far, according to monitors.

"Syrians feel that they have been left alone to face their fate," he said, denouncing the "massacres against the Syrians and the systematic destruction" of cities, towns and villages.

It seems that "the whole world has agreed not to act towards their ordeal," he said.

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