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Terrorism & Security

Syria's opposition groups convene in Qatar – can they build a unified front?

The opposition's Syrian National Council began a conference in Qatar yesterday to overhaul its structure. Many, including the US, have lost confidence in the fragmented group.

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When the coup failed, many of Syria’s leading pro-Western notables were accused of treason and fled the country. In 1957, the US sought to carry out another putsch, this time on its own. The “American coup”, as it was named, was no more successful. Some of the CIA operatives in charge of handling the Syrians are still alive. Additional Syrian politicians sympathetic to the West were forced to flee the country. Destabilized by Washington’s failed coup making, Syria announced the creation of the United Arab Republic [a political union of Syria and Egypt] only months later. Nasser become president and carried out wide-ranging land reform in order to destroyed the economic underpinnings of the urban notables that had allied with the West.

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Europe Editor

Arthur Bright is the Europe Editor at The Christian Science Monitor.  He has worked for the Monitor in various capacities since 2004, including as the Online News Editor and a regular contributor to the Monitor's Terrorism & Security blog.  He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.

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Mr. Landis adds that today "the line up of states helping the US in its 'struggle for Syria' has hardly changed. Other aspects that have not changed are the infighting among Syria’s elites and the general resentment and distrust that Syrians share toward the US. It is hard to be optimistic."

Meanwhile, United Nations envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi called on Sunday for the UN Security Council to formally back the "Geneva Declaration," a transitional-government plan developed by then UN envoy to Syria Kofi Annan, reports Al Arabiya. The proposal calls for rebels and the Assad regime to form a transitional government, and leaves unmentioned the role of Mr. Assad in the proposed government.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was meeting with Mr. Brahimi on Sunday in Cairo, also backed the proposal, and criticized the West for not considering talks with Assad.

“Unfortunately, some countries which participated in Geneva don’t speak with the government but only with the opposition and encourage them to fight till victory and this has very negative implications,” Mr. Lavrov said. Russia has consistently backed the Assad regime, and has vetoed several Security Council resolutions on the conflict.

But former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who defected in August, told The Daily Telegraph that Assad has no interest in talks and feels that he can win the Syrian conflict through force.

"We told Bashar he needed to find a political solution to the crisis," he said. "We said, 'These are our people that we are killing.'

"We suggested that we work with Friends of Syria group, but he categorically refused to stop the operations or to negotiate." ...

"Bashar used to be scared of the international community – he was really worried that they would impose a no-fly zone over Syria," he said. "But then he tested the waters, and pushed and pushed and nothing happened. Now he can run air strikes and drop cluster bombs on his own population."

Mr. Hijab said that after the defense minister and the president's brother-in-law were killed in a July bombing, Assad hardened against the opposition.

"My brief was to lead a national reconciliation government," Mr Hijab said. "But in our first meeting Bashar made it clear that this was a cover. He called us his 'War Cabinet'."

"The new minister of defence sent out a communiqué telling all heads in the military that they should do 'whatever is necessary' to win," he said. "He gave them a carte blanche for the use of force."

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