x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Syria opposition launches national council to overthrow Assad

Syrian National Council in Turkey unveils its aims, including the removal of the present regime, rejects any foreign interference in Syria and urges the international community to recognise the legitimacy of the opposition group.

BEIRUT // Syrian dissidents meeting in Turkey have formally announced the creation of a council designed to overthrow the current president's regime.

A group of opposition activists launched the Syrian National Council last month. The structure and aims of the body were announced yesterday in Istanbul.

Opposition figure Burhan Ghalioun read out the founding statement, which was signed by important reform leaders.

Mr Ghalioun said the aims of the council were to present a united opposition front and overthrow the regime of the president, Bashar Al Assad.

He rejected any foreign interference in Syria and urged the international community to recognise the legitimacy of the group.

Meanwhile, a state-run Syrian newspaper warned yesterday that the US ambassador, Robert Ford, should stop meddling in Syrian affairs if he wants to avoid more "rotten eggs" attacks.

Al Baath newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Syrian regime, accused Mr Ford of supporting armed anti-government groups in Syria and said his meddling would not be tolerated. Supporters of Mr Al Assad on Thursday pelted Mr Ford, an outspoken critic of the Syrian regime's crackdown on the six-month uprising, with eggs as he visited a prominent Syrian opposition figure in Damascus.

Mr Ford was trapped in the dissident's office for about three hours until Syrian security forces arrived to escort him out.

"If you want to avoid rotten eggs, you should advise your country to stop its blatant interference in Syrian affairs and its feverish efforts to seek sanctions against Syria from the UN Security Council," the newspaper said.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the White House said the assault was part of a campaign to intimidate diplomats looking into the Assad government's repression of pro-reform demonstrators.

The US administration summoned Syria's ambassador in Washington to hear formal US condemnation of the assault.

In comments posted on the embassy's Facebook page, Mr Ford said Thursday's attack was not limited to eggs and tomatoes.

"Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars.

"One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof," Mr Ford wrote. "Is that peaceful? I'd call it intolerant if not worse."

Al Baath said Mr Ford should expect further "unpleasant treatment" should his country keep meddling in Syrian affairs.

"As long as the ambassador believes that diplomacy is the art of instigation against national regimes, he should anticipate unpleasant treatment," it said.

Mr Ford has angered the Syrian regime by visiting protest centres outside Damascus in a show of solidarity with the uprising.

The latest incident could further raise tensions between Washington and Damascus, which has accused the US of helping incite violence in Syria.

In August, the US president, Barack Obama, demanded Mr Al Assad resign, saying he had lost his legitimacy as a ruler.

Tensions between the West and Syria, Iran's closest Arab ally, have been rising for months.

Washington and the European Union have imposed sanctions on some Syrian officials, including Mr Al Assad, because of his crackdown, which has resulted to the deaths of 2,700 people, according to the United Nations.