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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.

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Syria’s opposition leaders declared the aims of the SNC during their meeting in Istanbul on Sunday. They called on the international community to provide “humanitarian” protection to Syria’s embattled pro-democracy activists while rejecting a Libya-style foreign military intervention, where NATO bombing of forces loyal to Qaddafi tipped the balance in favor of rag-tag rebel units.

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The Syrian regime’s continued willingness to use force against the largely unarmed protesters – who are officially dismissed as criminal agents of foreign powers – and the anti-Assad activists’ continued willingness to come onto the streets in the face of lethal force, make Syria a different case.

“The Libya scenario had flat ground, a weak army, and no Arab support [for Qaddafi]; in Syria it is exactly the opposite,” says Hassan Hachimi, a Canada-based architect and SNC member in charge of relations with North America. “Libya took six months and 3,000 casualties, and that’s why we say we don’t want that. We need creative, out-of-the-box thinking.”

That thinking should include a no-fly zone, or perhaps a buffer along Syria’s border with Turkey, where anti-Assad activists can find protection and safety, opposition leaders here say. The SNC is looking for “declarations of legitimacy” from the West, says Mr. Hachimi, and “declarations of illegitimacy of the regime.”

Getting a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Assad from the International Criminal Court in The Hague could also take a psychological toll on the regime, says Monzer Makhous, a Paris-based petroleum geologist who is to handle European affairs for the SNC.

“One must be a big dreamer to think the regime will be over in a few weeks, or even a few months,” says Dr. Makhous. “But also now no one can imagine this regime will stay – it’s only a question of how and when it will fall.”

And there are also host of other questions, says Makhous. He echoes other Syrian opposition leaders when he describes their latest meeting, and its apparent unity, as a “breakthrough.” But it is not yet clear how the opposition will evolve, nor how it can incorporate other opposition groups, meeting publicly inside Syria itself, which are willing to leave paths open to negotiations with the regime.

Leveraging international pressure

All SNC members, by contrast, state unequivocally that the current regime must end and Assad must go. Also uncertain is how willing the international community is to help the Syrian opposition, and how much support can come from Arab nations.

Qatar is very advanced in this area,” says Makhous, reflecting the tiny Persian Gulf emirate’s out-sized role in Libya, where it contributed 1,000 military “advisors” and supplied everything to the rebel forces from cash, satellite phones, and military hardware and vehicles to blanket television coverage on Al Jazeera.

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