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Turkey: New opp leader says won't talk with Syrian Govt


In his inaugural speech after being elected prime minister by the Syrian National Coalition, Ghassan Hitto said Tuesday that the opposition will not enter into dialogue with President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

"We confirm to the great Syrian people that there will be no dialogue with the Assad regime," Ghassan Hitto said.

Hitto was chosen early Tuesday by a majority of the main opposition National Coalition members – winning 35 out of 49 votes – after hours of consultation among dissidents.

Hitto, a former IT executive with Islamist leanings, is a naturalized American citizen who lived in the United States for decades before quitting his job last November to join the Syrian opposition. Up until recently, Hitto headed the National Coalition's humanitarian assistance arm, the Turkey-based Assistance Coordination Unit.

Some Coalition members described Hitto as a consensus candidate pleasing both the opposition's Islamist and liberal factions.

But some of the 70-odd Coalition members withdrew from the consultations before the vote could take place, accusing opposition heavyweight Muslim Brotherhood of imposing Hitto as a candidate.

"We don't want what happened in Egypt to happen in Syria. They hijacked the revolution," Coalition member Kamal Labwani, who walked out of the vote, told AFP.

He will be tasked with setting up an interim opposition government, which will be put to a vote to the Coalition's general assembly.

Hitto plans to be based inside rebel-held parts of Syria, from where he and his future government will help administer swathes of territory that are mired in poverty and insecurity since the beginning of the government.

Pro-government daily al-Watan was quick to slam the Coalition's bid to form a government, calling it "delirious and confused."

The election comes some two months after Coalition chief Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib proposed talks with regime officials with conditions, including that some "160,000 detainees" be released.

Some Coalition members told AFP the election of an interim rebel premier and the establishment of a government cancelled out the possibility of talks with the regime.

"Khatib had specific conditions for talks with regime officials, and they were not met. The idea of talks fell through before the election happened," Coalition deputy Soheir Atassi said.

Another Coalition member told AFP on condition of anonymity that main opposition player, the Syrian National Council, only acceded to the creation of an interim government on the condition that there would be no talks with the regime.

"Once that was agreed, the Syrian National Council gave its backing to Hitto," the member told AFP.

Opposition members in Istanbul hoped the vote would attract much-needed weapons and humanitarian aid from the international community.

Meanwhile Tuesday, both sides of the Syrian conflict exchanged accusations over an alleged chemical attack near Aleppo which they say has killed dozens of people so far.

However, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had no independent information about any use of such arms in Syria.

OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said the organization was “closely monitoring” the situation and would look at media reports about what had happened and "try to identify the symptoms which may be detected" in order to make an assessment.

If confirmed, the attack would be the first use of chemical weapons in the two-year conflict.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, Reuters)

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