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Moderate Islamic preacher expected to unify Syrian opposition groups

On Sunday, Syria's fractured opposition groups came together to form a unified organization, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. Maath al-Khatib, a moderate Islamic preacher who has been imprisoned several times during the conflict in Syria, was elected president.

By Khaled Yacoub OweisReuters / November 12, 2012

Islamic preacher Maath al-Khatib poses for a photo after being elected president of the newly formed Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, created after the Syrian National Council (SNC) agreed to the new group, on Sunday.

Osama Faisal/AP

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Amman

A month after pro-democracy protests erupted in Syria, Sheikh Maath al-Khatib gave an electrifying speech to a crowd in Damascus mourning Sunni demonstrators shot dead by President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite security forces.

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Ordinary Alawites, said the man chosen on Sunday to unite the country's fractured opposition, were not to blame for Syria's ills -- a message Western leaders hope he can relay to what is now an increasingly radical Sunni-led armed revolt.

"We are raising our voice for freedom for every human being in this country, for very Sunni, for every Alawite and for every Ismaili and Christian from the Arab or from the great Kurdish nation," he said, flanked by Aref Dalila, a veteran Alawite economist and leading Syrian writer Michel Kilo, a Christian.

The words hit home. "One hand! The Syrian people are one!" chanted the crowd in the staunchly Sunni northern suburb of Douma, where Alkhatib stood out among the other, traditionally-dressed clerics with his western-style suit.

A moderate Islamist preacher, al-Khatib was imprisoned several times after the speech, which set the tone for the mainly Sunni protests before Assad's crackdown made sectarian tensions soar.

More than a year and a half later, more than 38,000 people have been killed in ground and ariel bombardments of mainly Sunni areas by government forces and Alkhatib is among many prominent Syrian opposition figures forced to flee.

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