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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.

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Sunni Jihadists are now a formidable fighting force on the ground and Syria is close to all-out sectarian war that could destabilise IraqIsraelJordanLebanon and Turkey.

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"Alkhatib is a dynamic progressive Islamist, popular in Damascus and the rest of Syria. He is not a trigger-happy Jihadist and he can play a role in containing the extremist groups," said Mazen Adi, a prominent human rights defender and politician who worked with Alkhatib before the revolt.

Just before the opposition meeting in Qatar which elected him, Alkhatib circulated an open letter to the Syrian people in which he said the goals of the revolt must remain bringing down Assad's "fascist system" while working to bring more minorities into the revolt and limit the bloodshed.

The Doha meeting, designed to help the opposition win international recognition and support, elected him unanimously but Alkhatib faces a much harder task rallying the rebels, who are wary of exiles and increasingly influenced by radical elements linked to the Sunni al Qaeda movement. 

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