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Syrian opposition forms unity council, hoping to continue Arab Spring

Creation of the Syrian opposition's unity council comes as the US is set to call for a UN resolution to consider further sanctions against Syria if it does not halt the crackdown that has left some 2,700 dead.

By Staff writer / October 4, 2011

A Syrian living in Jordan gestures, with her fingers painted in the colors of the Syrian national flag, during a protest against president Bashar al-Assad, outside the Syrian embassy in Amman, last Thursday.

Ali Jarekji/Reuters

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Istanbul, Turkey

Syria’s myriad opposition groups are forging a newly unified Syrian National Council (SNC), after more than six months of streets protests have challenged the rule of President Bashar al-Assad and raised the possibility of another successful Arab Spring revolution to follow those in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

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European nations backed by the United States on Tuesday are expected to call for a vote on a new UN resolution that would consider further sanctions if Syrian security forces do not stop a military crackdown that has so far left an estimated 2,700 dead.

The UN vote would coincide with the release of a report on Tuesday by Amnesty International, the human rights organization, that the Syrian regime has mounted a “systematic” and sometimes violent campaign of intimidation against Syrian opponents abroad and their families at home.

Documenting the use of tools as diverse as baseball bats for beatings and telephoned death threats, as well as torture and disappearances of family members of activists still in Syria, Amnesty detailed cases in eight countries in Europe and the Americas, from Chile to Canada, which indicate the “long reach of the feared Syrian mukhabaraat, or intelligence services.”

Anti-regime rallies outside Syrian embassies are routinely filmed, and activists “systematically monitored and harassed by embassy officials” and others working for the regime, reports Amnesty.

None of that surprises Adib Shishakly, one of the coordinators of the SNC, who says he has received death threats. He was woken by a strange phone call at 3 a.m. a few weeks back, for example, and told: “Stop. You think you can continue? We can assassinate you.”

“It is very dangerous, many members have been attacked,” Mr. Shishakly told the Monitor, during his visit to Istanbul for opposition talks. Regime opponents do not broadcast their travel plans or flight details, and stay in different hotels, though most are ordinary people with little past cloak-and-dagger experience.

Notes Shishakly: “We are not pros at this.”

A different case than Libya

Syria’s key opposition elements – the long-standing Damascus Declaration group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other ethnic, religious, and grassroots groups, all united under the SNC for the first time – increasingly portray themselves as a government-in-waiting, as the once-rebel National Transitional Council in Libya has taken the lead after toppling Col. Muammar Qaddafi in August.

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