With the United States and Europe having given up on demanding reforms, attention is switching to what may replace Assad. The fractured and leaderless opposition’s lack of structure or organization was cited as a major concern by U.S. and other Western officials as they debated whether to explicitly call for Assad to go.
Opposition figures say the intensified international pressure on the regime has boosted efforts to present a coherent alternative.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down on Thursday. (Aug. 18)
Amateur videos released on Friday were claimed to show thousands of protesters flooding onto the streets across Syrian cities, shouting for the ouster of President Bashar Assad as his embattled regime. (Aug. 19)
On Sunday, a group of mostly exiled Syrians meeting in Istanbul is expected to announce the formation of a Syrian National Council to represent the opposition, said Yaser Tabbara, a Syrian American lawyer based in Chicago who is helping coordinate the effort.
“It’s the alternative the international community has been looking for, a body that can speak for the opposition,” he said.
Late Thursday, an umbrella group bringing together the dozens of local committees that have sprung up inside Syria to organize protests was announced in a statement posted on the Syrian Revolution Facebook page.
The eventual goal, Tabbara said, is to merge the two groups into a Transitional National Council that will mimic the one formed in Libya, now widely recognized as Libya’s official government.
In Brussels, the European Union on Friday approved new sanctions against the Syrian government and pledged further steps to squeeze Syria’s banking and petroleum industries. E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said member states were preparing for a possible embargo on Syrian petroleum and a suspension of technical assistance from the European Investment Bank. The proposals could be approved as early as next week.
“The European Union continues to aim at putting an end to the brutal repression and assisting the Syrian people to achieve their legitimate aspirations,” Ashton said in statement released by her office.
Western diplomats also are hoping to increase the pressure on Assad through a criminal investigation, though the presumed investigative body, the International Criminal Court, has not yet been given the authority to conduct such a probe. In a statement Friday, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said his office had no jurisdiction to investigate allegations of Syrian crimes against humanity. Permission for a formal probe must be granted by the U.N. Security Council, which includes member states opposed to tougher measures against Syria.
Staff writer Joby Warrick in Washington contributed to this report.