(Reuters) – Syrian rebel groups meeting in Turkey elected a 30-member unified command on Friday at talks attended by security officials from international powers, delegates said.
The 30 included many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, and excluded the most senior officers who had defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s military, they said.
“The command has been organised into several fronts. We are now in the process of electing a military leader and a political liaison officer for each region,” said one of the delegates who did not want to be named, speaking from the coastal city of Antalya, where the meeting is being held.
Another delegate said that two-thirds of the leadership had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or were politically allied with the group, a composition which resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.
“We are witnessing the result of the Qatari and Turkish creations,” the delegate said, adding that the 30 are a mix of officers who had defected from the military, which is dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, and civilians-turned rebels.
Security officials from the United States, Britain, France, the Gulf and Jordan have been attending the talks, which come days before a conference for the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of countries that have mostly pledged non-military aid to rebels fighting to oust Assad.
The new military leadership includes Jamal Marouf, an Islamist commander and Ahmad al-Issa from al-Zawiya region in Idlib, as well as Colonel Abdelbasset al-Tawil, who has links with Salafists in the province.
At least two figures representing the adjacent province of Aleppo were Salafists. They were joined by Colonel Abdelqader Saleh, a non-ideological professional officer, sources at the meeting said.
Absent from the group is Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army and Brigadier Mustafa al-Sheikh, a senior officer known for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Assad and Sheikh were not part of the 263-man meeting in Antalia. Also excluded was general Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect from the military since the uprising erupted in March last year.