Syrian opposition elects interim prime minister

A Free Syrian Army fighter from the Al-Faruk brigade, center, steps on a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad, at the Tal Abyad, a Turkish-Syrian border crossing captured by the rebels earlier in the week, eastern Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla,
The opposition Syrian National Coalition has elected a new provisional prime minister, entrusting him with the task of restoring order to areas no longer controlled by President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria\’s main Western-backed opposition grouping has elected an interim prime minister as it seeks to boost its standing as a credible political alternative in the civil war-stricken country.
The Syrian National Coalition voted in Istanbul Saturday to name longtime political activist Ahmad Tumeh its new prime minister.
The coalition elected Ahmad Tumeh, 48, on Saturday, with hopes he will boost the opposition\’s credibility as international efforts are increased to restart a peace process to end the country\’s civil war.
Tumeh, a former political prisoner from the eastern province of Deir al-Zor and a dentist by training, won 75 votes out of 97 cast in a coalition ballot in Istanbul, sources told the Reuters news agency.
Tumeh will be tasked with organizing governance in areas of Syria controlled by rebel factions.
He replaces Ghassan Hitto, who resigned in July after just four months in the job without managing to form an opposition cabinet from among the fractious group.
Tumeh, described as a moderate Islamist, is expected to choose a cabinet of 13 ministers in a deal reached after two days of talks between power brokers in the Arab and Western-backed coalition.
The head of the opposition Syrian Supreme Military Council said on Saturday a U.S.-Russian agreement to eliminate Syria\’s chemical weapons was a blow to the two-and-a-half-year uprising to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
General Selim Idris said the deal would allow Assad to escape being held accountable for killing hundreds of civilians in a poison gas attack on Damascus on Aug. 21. Assad has denied responsibility for the attack.
"There is nothing in this agreement that concerns us," said Gen Salim Idriss, describing it as a Russian initiative designed to gain time for the Syrian government.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov say they have reached an agreement on a framework for securing Syria\’s chemical weapons after the third day of intense negotiations in Geneva.
Speaking at a press conference in Geneva on Saturday, after the third day of intense negotiations, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that arms inspectors should be on the ground in Syria by November with the goal of eliminating the country\’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.
"Providing this framework is fully implemented it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but also to their neighbours,"  Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after they wrapped up three days of talks in Geneva.
"Because of the threat of proliferation this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world," he said.
"The world will now expect [President Bashar al-] Assad\’s regime to live up to its commitments… There can be no room for games. Or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime," he added.
Kerry and Lavrov said if Syria failed to comply, then a UN resolution would be sought under Chapter VII of the UN charter, which allows for the use of force.
Kerry said inspectors must be on the ground by November, and that the stockpiles should be removed or destroyed by mid-2014.
Lavrov said their decision was based upon "consensus and compromise", pointing out that the deal contained nothing about the potential use of force if Syria fails to comply.
But US Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no pre-agreement on what action the UN Security Council might take if Syria fails to comply with the plan, which envisages a complete destruction of its chemical weapons by mid-2014.
Lavrov suggested there could be another international peace conference on Syria by October.
"The main thing is to make sure that all Syrian sides are represented at the conference," he said.
Over the years there have been several conferences, some of which have included the Syrian opposition and excluded the government.
France, which was the only country willing to join the US in taking military action in Syria, welcomed the agreement.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was an "important advance".
The United States says more than 1,400 people were killed in the attack, which the U.S. says was carried out by the Syrian military. The Assad government blames rebels for carrying out the attack.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and the UN refugee agency says about one third of Syria\’s pre-war population of 20.8 million have fled their homes, either to other countries or safer areas within Syria.
Source: Agencies
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