Opponents of President Bashar al-Assad need a foreign-protected safe haven in Syria if they are to form a credible transitional authority, a Syrian opposition figure said on Friday.
Basma Kodmani, who quit the Syrian National Council (SNC) this week saying it was out of touch with forces on the ground, said such a body should include the SNC, the Free Syria Army and representatives of all Syria’s religious and ethnic groups.
“Such a provisional government needs to be based inside Syria in the liberated areas,” she told Reuters in an interview.
“That requires a safe area where it can be based. For the moment the dangers are too high for such a government to operate from inside Syria,” Kodmani said, adding that with foreign protection, the authority could be set up within three months.
Western powers are reluctant, however, to supply weapons to Syrian rebels or to send warplanes to protect safe havens without a U.N. Security Council mandate, which cannot be obtained because China and Russia oppose any intervention.
Kodmani, who had headed the Istanbul-based SNC’s foreign affairs bureau, was speaking as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius laid out French plans to channel aid to rebel-held areas in northern and southern Syria.
Kodmani blamed lack of Western support for the problems besetting the fractured SNC. “The council was victim of an international response that was simply not there.”
She contrasted the West’s response to the Syria crisis with its action on Libya last year, when a transitional council swiftly gained world recognition and NATO enforced a no-fly zone with a U.N. mandate and bombed Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.
A U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday on aid for Syria highlighted the group’s paralysis in the 17-month conflict, although Britain, France and Turkey said military action to secure civilian safe zones was still an option.
Kodmani, a Paris-based academic, said protecting such zones was vital to show regions that have suffered huge loss of life and made gains against Assad’s army that the West supports them.
“The protection of these areas is now a compelling responsibility for the international community, whether (they are) protected directly by a no-fly zone, or the Free Syrian Army is provided with the means to ensure the regime cannot fly over these cities and bomb them with total impunity,” she said.
An opposition body based in Syria could liaise better with smaller groups scattered over the country, making it more effective and legitimate than the SNC, she argued.
Kodmani said it was too early to say who should head a new authority, but that it should include Christians, Alawites and government ministers and heads of state institutions who had not been involved in Assad’s crackdown on the opposition.
“The process of identifying who these people are is the most important task at this stage,” she said. “There’s no time to waste, this has to be done now and quickly.”