Syrian rebels move toward unified command


Syrian rebels across the country are moving toward a unified command, the latest step in a consolidation by the opposition as it seeks to garner stronger international support.

Under a preliminary agreement reached Friday by the disparate Free Syrian Army units, each Syrian province will have a civilian rebel council leader and a military council leader.

The commanders will be under the leadership of a newly named chief of staff, Gen. Salim Idris, Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Almokdad said.

All members of the new leadership team are Syrian and mostly are from inside Syria, he said.

It is premature to call the new group the Supreme Military Council, but the agreement is a step toward forming the higher military council, Almokdad said.

The united military front follows the creation of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a new coalition of groups opposed to the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States, in particular, had been pushing for the opposition to unite.

The American calls for unity came amid concerns about the increasing radicalization of some armed factions of the opposition. The stronger the radical groups become, the more the United States worried that the fighting — not political efforts to find a solution — will decide the outcome in Syria.

Efforts are under way for the United States to formally recognize the newly formed Syrian political opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, which France and Britain have already done.

Early next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Marrakesh, Morocco, for a meeting of the Friends of the Syrian People, a gathering of countries that support the political transition.

The Obama administration, while providing, for now, non-lethal assistance, is expected to take the first steps toward officially recognizing the National Coalition at that meeting.

The Free Syrian Army hopes for the same support now that it attempts to unify.

A new defense minister for the Syrian opposition coalition is expected to be named later this month, Almokdad said.

Concern about chemical weapons

Britain’s foreign secretary on Saturday cited evidence that the Syrian regime could use its stockpile of chemical weapons against rebels battling government forces.

William Hague said that there was no simple “red line” which could trigger international military action, but that Britain and its allies had “contingency plans concerning chemical weapons” which he declined to disclose.

Recent U.S. intelligence suggests the Syrian government has started mixing chemical weapons compounds and loading them into bombs, though the bombs are not being moved to any delivery devices, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported.

The concern is not only that the Syrian regime may use chemical weapons, but that they could fall into the hands of terrorist groups.