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Secret Syria meet in Hatay

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/29/2011 12:00:00 AM | İPEK YEZDANİ - ipek.yezdani@hurriyet.com.tr

The head of Syrian National Council has secretly met the leader of the so-called Free Syrian Army in Hatay to promise support in the fight against Damascus

A delegation headed by the president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) conducted a secret meeting with the highest ranking Syrian army defector and leader of the self-proclaimed Free Syrian Army on Nov. 28 in Turkey, according to reports.

During the meeting in the southern province of Hatay on the Syrian border, SNC leader Burhan Galioun promised Free Syrian Army head Col. Riad al-Asaad that his council would support the fighting force, an organization formed by army defectors in Syria, a SNC member told the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said they knew about the meeting but did not have any details on what was said at the meeting.

Other high-ranking members of the SNC, including Ahmed Ramadan and Sweden-based Abdulbaset Seida, also attended the meeting, according to reports. The organization, with a membership of over 260, was formed in Istanbul in September to work for the removal of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad after he intensified his military crackdown on street protests. Ghalioun, who is based in France, has led the organization since.

Al-Asaad has been staying at a refugee camp in Hatay after escaping from his post in the Syrian Air Force in July.

Speaking to the Daily News on Oct. 9, Al-Asaad called on the international community and the United Nations to provide armed help to Syria’s opposition movement so that it can finally remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Al-Assad, who has been battling eight months of protests against his rule, faces street demonstrations, increasing armed opposition, deepening international isolation and an economic crisis triggered by the unrest and aggravated by economic sanctions.

Despite reports of army conscript desertions, the president has retained the loyalty of most military officers and government officials and has said he will not bow to international pressure to stop a crackdown on enemies he describes as “armed terrorists.”

The U.N. says 3,500 people have been killed in the crackdown. Authorities blame armed groups and say 1,100 police and soldiers have been killed.

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