Nation & World

Taking page from Libya, Syrian dissidents announce national council

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Syrian dissidents meeting here announced Tuesday that they have formed a national council to coordinate their efforts to topple the regime of President Bashar al Assad.

The formation of the National Council of Syria was intended to help give an identity to an opposition that despite months of bloody anti-Assad rallies appears largely leaderless and without common goals.

The membership of the council, however, was not specified, though a spokesman said it would include 115 to 120 members from all factions of Syria's opposition groups. About half of that membership was to be drawn from dissidents inside Syria.

Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman, said the names of those still in Syria likely would remain secret for their own safety.

The announcement of the council's formation came five days after the United States, after months of delay, called for Assad to resign. U.S. officials had delayed asking for Assad to go in large part, analysts said, because U.S. officials were uncertain who the opposition was and what its goals were. Western European nations joined the United States in demanding that Assad step down.

A similar group, the National Transitional Council, was formed in Libya last spring after demonstrations demanding the ouster of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi drew tens of thousands into the streets. The council became the de facto government of eastern Libya after demonstrators stormed Gadhafi military bases, and its chief, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, is expected to lead Libya's transition to democracy after Gadhafi is defeated.

Members of Syrian dissident groups met in Istanbul for four days before announcing the council. The groups included a wide range of Syria's political and ethnic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, liberals, Kurds and Turkmen.

An Islamist member of the opposition, Obeida Nahas, said he expected members of the national council to be announced in two weeks.

"This council will represent the revolution, not the political parties," Nahas said. "The revolution itself is much wider and broader than the political parties. Our aim is to represent the concerns and demands of the Syrian people."

Nahas said the group was opposed to international intervention in Syria. The group's statement said the council would be responsible for drafting a platform that "brings together the youth revolutionaries and all the political parties of the revolution."

The formation of the group came as the crackdown in Syria continued Tuesday, with reports that Syrian security forces had raided villages near the city of Hama, killing five.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, visited the town of Jaessem, 40 miles south of Damascus, where he visited with dissidents, the State Department said in Washington. Ford's visit to Jessem was in defiance of restrictions the Syrian government had imposed on him after he visited Hama to show support for pro-democracy demonstrators.

(Yezdani is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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