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Syrian opposition forces void decision to shake up its military

Demonstrators inside Jordan's Zaatari Syrian refugee camp gather in support of the Free Syrian Army, and rally other refugees nearby. Signs surrounding the demonstrators called for the international community to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons. Inside the camp, the overwhelming majority of refugees supported some type of U.S. military intervention in their home country of Syria.

AMMAN, Jordan — The major U.S.-backed Syrian opposition coalition has voided its leading official’s decision to disband the group’s military command structure and fire its top general.

The reversal reflects the rivalries, divisions and disarray within the Syrian National Coalition. The exile-based opposition group has been the recipient of tens of millions of dollars in aid from the United States and allies backing the armed rebellion against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

A coalition delegation supported by Washington also formally represented the opposition at Syrian peace negotiations held in Geneva earlier this year. The talks ended without a plan for peace or a cease-fire.

In a statement late Friday on its Facebook page, the Syrian National Coalition said that Ahmad Tomeh, prime minister of the coalition’s opposition shadow government, did not have the legal authority to dissolve the coalition’s Supreme Military Council or to sack its top general. The coalition said that Tomeh acted “entirely outside the framework of the powers of the temporary government.”

A day earlier, Tomeh had announced a sweeping restructuring of the coalition’s military wing and referred the matter to a financial and administrative oversight committee for investigation. He also ousted the top general, but provided no details on any possible wrongdoing. Tomeh criticized the military leadership for spending too much time outside Syria.

Internal dissension and bitter infighting have long plagued the opposition coalition. Various outside powers, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, back different factions within the group.

Many critics within the diverse Syrian opposition not affiliated with the coalition have assailed the group as having little relevance on the ground in Syria. Still, the United States continues to stand by the coalition as spearheading the “moderate” Syrian opposition.

On Friday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with the coalition’s president, Ahmad Jarba, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, reaffirming Washington’s support. The Obama administration is seeking $500 million in aid to train, equip and otherwise support what it calls “appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian opposition.” Critics have charged there is no way to guarantee that such aid does not end up in the hands of al-Qaida-style Islamist militant groups who are prominent in the Syrian armed opposition.

Washington and its allies regard the Syrian National Coalition as the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, but not as an official government in exile. The coalition has a recognized diplomatic foreign mission in the United States and is a key conduit for Western and other foreign aid and arms destined for Syrian rebels.

The Syrian government in Damascus has denounced the coalition as foreign-based sponsors of “terrorism” inside Syria and puppets of the United States and other outside powers backing Assad’s ouster.

The Syrian war has raged for more than three years, leaving tens of thousands dead and forcing millions from their homes. Fighting this month spread to neighboring Iraq, where a Qaida breakaway group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has seized large stretches of territory in northern and central Iraq. ISIS was formed amid the chaos in Syria.

Special correspondent Bulos reported from Amman and staff writer McDonnell from Beirut.

 

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