x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Unified Syrian opposition only path to peace

The Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces has hard work ahead of it. But unity is the best hope for stability in a fragile Syria.

On Sunday, Syria's opposition and revolutionary forces announced in Doha the formation of a national coalition. The unity body, which represents the majority of opposition forces and is open to the rest, will now have a key role in ending a crisis that has killed tens of thousands.

Israel's firing across the Syrian border into the Golan Heights on Sunday, the first such salvo in nearly 40 years, was a reminder of how regionally explosive the situation in Syria could yet become. Which is precisely why any movement towards stability, however incremental, must be welcomed.

To be sure, the new body - the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces - has hard work ahead of it. Its selection of a former preacher from Damascus, Moaz Al Khatib, is a positive start. Mr Khatib is widely-known as a moderate figure who preached and has written extensively about sectarian coexistence, and against vigilantism and revenge. His two deputies are also well-known former political prisoners, with the possibility of electing a third deputy who is a Kurd.

The formation of the council was been welcomed by a diverse group of opposition voices, from minorities and Sunnis alike. But the coalition is still fragile and could disintegrate if it does not receive sufficient support from Syrians, as well as from the international community. Its formation was championed by the US, Qatar and others, and initially opposed by those who monopolised power through the stagnated Syrian National Council. Its members must now be made to work together.

The survival of the coalition will hinge on its ability to achieve where the SNC failed. Securing financial and military support for fighters on the ground will help the coalition gain legitimacy. Yet such support will only come if the new body can convince outside powers it can be a viable alternative to the Assad regime. The SNC acted as a council of leaders without a mandate from the people they claimed to represent. The SNC members were also based outside Syria, complicating unity efforts.

The new coalition's leaders say several countries had pledged financial and military support if the opposition unified. This will take time. What cannot wait, however, is a better coordinated relief effort between those Syrians inside and outside the country. A failure to use its financial resources to aid Syrians displaced was one of the SNC's principle failings. Building on past mistakes without alienating others is the only way to push the Assads aside.