Syrian rebels elect new military commander

Sat Dec 8, 2012 1:27pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebel groups have chosen a former officer to head a new Islamist-dominated command, in a Western-backed effort to put the opposition's house in order as President Bashar al-Assad's army takes hits that could usher his downfall.

In Turkey, a newly formed joint command of Syrian rebel groups has chosen Brigadier Selim Idris, one of hundreds of officers who have defected from Assad's army, as its head, opposition sources said on Saturday.

Idris, whose home province of Homs has been at the forefront of the Sunni Muslim-led uprising, was elected by 30 military and civilian members of the joint military command after talks attended by Western and Arab security officials in the Turkish city of Antalya.

The unified command includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Salafists, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam. It excludes the most senior officers who have defected from Assad's military.

On the Damascus battlefront, Assad's forces used multiple rocket launchers on Saturday against several suburbs that have fallen to rebels who have fought their way to the edge of the city's international airport, where foreign carriers have suspended all flights.

Rebels, who have overrun several army bases near Damascus over the last month, appeared to be holding their ground, encircling a main military base in the northeastern suburb of Harasta, known as "idarat al markabat", near the main highway to Aleppo, according to opposition campaigners.

"The fighters made slight progress today. They captured a weapons depot and got to a tank repair facility in the base, but all 20 tanks inside were inoperational," said Abu Ghazi, a rebel who was speaking from the area.

"The weather cleared and MiG fighters hit rebel positions around the base. Rocket launchers did not stop for the last three days. The site is crucial for the regime," he added.   Continued...

Demonstrators hold a banner during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after Friday prayers in Binish, near Idlib, December 7, 2012. The banner reads: "No to peacekeepers in Syria". REUTERS/Hamzeh Al-Binishi/Shaam News Network/Handout