Daily News Photo / Emrah Gürel
The newly elected Syrian rebel prime minister has used his first speech to promise that his government will work to repatriate all Syrian refugees to provinces that are now under control of opposition militants fighting Damascus.
Ghassan Hitto was chosen by a majority of the main opposition Syrian National Coalition members following hours of closed-door consultations on March 19. The 50-year-old will be tasked with setting up an interim government which would be based in rebel-held territory in Syria.
“We will work to return all Syrian refugees to the freed provinces,” said Hitto, a former U.S.-based IT executive with Islamist leanings, referring to a large chunk of territories seized from the government in the north and east of the country. The opposition aims to help run daily life in large swathes of rebel territory mired in poverty and insecurity.
Syria’s first rebel premier also said the new government would coordinate with international humanitarian agencies to bring in much-needed aid and “run border controls” that have fallen into rebel hands.
He said the new government would not enter into dialogue with the government of President Bashar al-Assad. “We confirm to the great Syrian people that there will be no dialogue with the al-Assad regime,” Hitto said.
The election comes two months after coalition chief Mouaz al-Khatib proposed talks with regime officials with conditions, including that some “160,000 detainees” be released.
In a speech laying out the new government’s priorities, Hitto called the regime “a gang” that “destroyed the country.”
“The main priority we have before us is to make use of all tools at our disposal to bring down the al-Assad regime,” said Hitto, while pledging to offer “all possible assistance” to residents living in areas free from army control. “We promise that we will face the challenges together. The aim of this government will not be based on political interests. We will choose its ministers and advisers based on their technical and professional capacity.”
Hitto said his interim government, which opponents believe should be formed within a month, would “collaborate with the Free Syrian Army” to ensure “security and the rule of law” for civilians. He said the government would “fight crime” and “limit the proliferation of weapons” in areas from which the army has withdrawn, but which are plagued with insecurity, kidnappings and theft.
Free Syrian Army chief of staff Salim Idris has already said the insurgents would work under the umbrella of the provisional government.
Turkey, meanwhile, has “welcomed” the election of Hitto, a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News
“As Turkey recognized the Syrian [National] Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, we respect the coalition’s decisions,” the diplomat said.
He said Hitto was elected upon an Arab League decision on March 6 that called on the Syrian opposition to establish an execution body.