Coalition an attempt at unifying Syrian rebel forces

Suggest Annan’s peace plan dead

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ISTANBUL — Syrian activists on Monday announced a new rebel coalition that aims to overcome deep divisions within the opposition in its fight against the forces of President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian Rebels Front declared its formation at a news conference in Turkey that had the hallmarks of a public relations event, including a banner, video presentations and a simultaneous translation service. It was uncertain how the new organization would coordinate with other sectors of the Syrian opposition, whose failure to unite has hobbled its campaign to topple Mr. Assad despite a nationwide uprising that has lasted more than a year.

Khaled al-Okla, one of the organizers, said the fledgling group will coordinate with the Free Syrian Army, a loose coalition of rebels whose nominal leaders are based on the Turkish side of the border with Syria. Members of the Free Syrian Army acknowledge that their commanders have limited or no operational control over rebel units inside Syria, but they say the label has given a public face to the lightly armed factions that are under heavy pressure from government forces with tanks and artillery.

“We might have some treaties or agreements to coordinate our work in Syria,” said Mr. al-Okla, who said his umbrella group has 12,000 fighters.

He also read a statement that said the Syrian Rebels Front had been formed in light of Mr. Assad’s “scorched-earth policy” as well as “the failure of all Arab and international initiatives to rein in Assad from his crimes.”

The statement suggested the rebels were giving up on a peace plan proposed by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan. The 15-month-old revolt against Mr. Assad’s rule has killed as many as 13,000 people, according to activist groups.

The rebel statement cited the May 25 killings of more than 100 people, many of them children, in Houla as the height of the Syrian regime’s cruelty. The opposition and the government have exchanged accusations about what happened in Houla, each blaming the other for the house-to-house carnage. U.N. investigators have said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime gunmen are responsible for at least some of the killings.

The announcement of the new rebel front was accompanied by a video presentation claiming it has 100 “battalions or fighting formations,” and it featured clips of masked fighters declaring their allegiance to the new entity.

Also Monday, the Washington-based Refugees International called on the world to help Syrians who have fled their country’s turmoil, saying they are stretching the meager resources of Jordan and Lebanon. Since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Jordan has taken in more than 110,000 refugees, and Lebanon 26,000, according to official figures. In Jordan, many refugees are being hosted in private homes, with Jordanian families providing them food and shelter.

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