Syrian opposition factions broker shaky agreement

Two leading factions of Syria’s political opposition moved toward forming a coalition by agreeing on a blueprint for a democratic transition of power, a step hailed and condemned by their deeply divided members.

The accord by the leaders of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (NCC) rejects foreign intervention in Syria but calls for the protection of civilians by all legitimate means, according to a statement on the NCC’s Web site.

At least 5,000 people have been killed in a nine-month crackdown by Syrian forces on protests against President Bashar al-Assad, according to a United Nations estimate. The violence has prompted the United States and many other nations to join in calling for Assad to step down.

“Of course, it’s a positive development,” Khaldoon al-Aswad, a member of the executive committee of the NCC, said of the agreement between the two factions. “We have been trying to create some form of political alliance from the beginning of the uprising in March.”

However, the agreement was swiftly criticized by rank and file members of both parties, underscoring the weakness of the parties and other groupings in Syria, where all political activity has been tightly controlled for more than 40 years by Assad and his father, Hafez.

“The reaction so far has been very negative,” said Amr al-Azm, a U.S.-based member of the Syrian National Council. “The vast majority of the SNC were unaware of this agreement, and they are very discouraged.” He added that many in the opposition have criticized council leader Burhan ­Ghalioun because the agreement doesn’t call for an international intervention in Syria.

Many protesters want an internationally enforced no-fly zone over Syria, buffer zones on the borders and even the supply of arms to rebel fighters.

Another SNC member, Rami Nakhle, posted on Facebook that he was expecting the group’s general assembly to refuse to ratify the agreement. “We might be living the first democratic experience in ages,” he wrote. “You can say that it is like the Syrian government signed an agreement and the people’s council refused it.”

Khalid Kamal, an NCC member in Syria, told al-Jazeera satellite television that members of his group also had not been consulted on the agreement and that they would call for a no-fly zone.

Such fragmentation has frustrated the opposition in Syria, according to an activist near Damascus who gave his name as Adam Nasir. People are “sick of the politicians,” he said. “Their opinion is that all of the politicians should unite.”

The divisions also have posed problems for Western policymakers, who have not been presented with a clear alternative to Assad’s rule, said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“The problem is that the Syrian opposition can be quite begrudging,” Tabler said. “They complain a lot about the different accords that are signed, and that doesn’t help their cause.” The tendency is for the groups to join together, he added, “but it’s happening more slowly than we would like.”

Protests in Syria continued Saturday with demonstrators displaying renewed energy since the arrival last week of a delegation of Arab League monitors.

The monitors’ mission is to oversee the implementation of an agreement by the government to cease the use of deadly force against protests, withdraw troops from the cities and release political prisoners.

Rami Abdulrahman of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said no one had been killed in protests Saturday, a possible sign that the military is easing its crackdown.

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