Defending of Homs priority, newly-elected head of Syrian opposition says

Defending of Homs priority, newly-elected head of Syrian opposition says

Defending of Homs priority, newly-elected head of Syrian opposition says

Free Syrian Army rebels, accompanied by fighters from the Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, carry their weapons as they stand in front of a damaged building in Homs. REUTERS photo

The new head of Syria’s opposition National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, has said that responding to an army offensive against rebel-held districts of the central city of Homs, is his top priority.

Jarba, who represents the faction of veteran secular dissident Michel Kilo and who is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, obtained 55 votes in the deeply divided Syrian National Coalition (SNC) on July 6. He edged out Qatar-endorsed businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, the group’s secretary general, who obtained 52 votes in the second round of balloting at the group’s meeting in Istanbul.

The selection of a new chief had initially been mooted for the end of May but had been postponed amid conflicting views on the future direction of the coalition and attempts by other countries in the region to influence the outcome. In a short statement published after his election, Jarba said his “priority is to manage developments on the ground in Syria, particularly at Homs.”

Al-Jarba, a 44-year-old lawyer with a law degree from Beirut’s Arab University, is from Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh and is a member of the powerful Shammar tribe that extends into Iraq.

Homs will fall if nothing changes

During the vote, the 114 members of the coalition also elected three vice presidents, Suheir Atassi, Mohammed Farouk Tayfur and Salim Muslit. Badr Jamous was voted secretary general of the umbrella organization.

On the ground, intense fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs has left 60 to 70 percent of a besieged rebel-held district damaged, destroyed or uninhabitable, a monitoring group said July 7. The estimate from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came nine days into an all-out army assault on the rebel-held Khaldiyeh and Old City neighborhoods, which have been under siege for more than a year.

Regime forces subjected July 7 insurgent areas of the city to fierce shelling, said the Observatory. “Sixty to 70 percent of buildings in Khaldiyeh are either totally destroyed, partially destroyed, or unsuitable for habitation,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse.

Homs is Syria’s third-largest city, and tens of thousands of its residents have fled the fighting.

“Of all Syria’s cities, Homs has suffered the highest levels of destruction... Images of Homs make it look like a world war has hit the city. Much of it has been flattened,” he added. In Damascus, regime warplanes targeted Jubar in the east of the capital, while tanks hit Qaboon in the northeast, said the Observatory.

In northern Damascus, the army tried to storm Barzeh, where rebels are still holed up, the watchdog said.