Middle East
3:58 pm
Tue March 19, 2013

Syrian Rebels Describe Fight As Revolution For Justice, Not A Civil War

Originally published on Tue March 19, 2013 6:51 pm

Transcript

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The world must acknowledge that Syria is going through a revolution for justice and freedom, not a fight between two teams. That message today from the new interim prime minister of the opposition Syrian National Coalition. 50-year-old Ghassan Hitto will now attempt to form an interim government as violence continues across the country. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: After months of infighting, the opposition factions came together around Hitto, an IT executive and naturalized U.S. citizen who's lived for decades in Texas. On paper, an unlikely choice, said some observers. But to the ears of desperate Syrians facing a daily onslaught from the military, Hitto's strong support for more aid and services to rebel-held areas and his refusal to negotiate with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad rang true. Hitto said the regime's backers in the international community, led by Russia and Iran, must stop holding out for a solution that leaves Assad in power.

GHASSAN HITTO: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Let me assure the Syrians who started this revolution there will be no negotiations with the Assad regime, said Hitto. He added, in a message to Iran and Russia, don't bet on the regime. Don't bet on a losing option.

The question of negotiating versus fighting is a sharp difference between the coalition's rising star Hitto and Moaz Khatib, who, while still head of the coalition, is now seen as having declining influence. In a fiery speech, Khatib accused the international community of meddling for a variety of ends that had nothing to do with supporting the Syrian people. He sounded fed up with all the international involvement and the conditions that come with it.

MOAZ AL-KHATIB: (Through translator) There is a bone-crushing regional war going on in our land now. Either help us or get out. Our land is not theater for your game-playing. Get out now, all of you.

KENYON: Ghassan Hitto's first day as interim prime minister was marked by more heavy violence, including a fierce counter attack by Syrian troops against a key northern target, a police academy seized weeks ago by rebel fighters. The Syrian information minister accused rebels of launching a chemical weapons attack, while rebel fighters said it was the government that launched a chemical attack.

U.S. and British officials said they were looking into the charges, but to date had no evidence to back them up. Coalition members say the coming weeks for the new interim prime minister will include naming a government, meeting with Syrian fighters inside the country and with backers outside Syria. Coalition member Samir Nachar says other tricky decisions will follow, such as where the new government will be based. Not in Istanbul or Cairo or Doha, says Nachar, though security will necessarily be a key factor.

SAMIR NACHAR: (Through translator) It's so important to be inside Syria, but the question is can we protect this government? But if it's impossible to be inside, maybe it will be on the border.

KENYON: If the new opposition government does set up shop just across the border in southeast Turkey, analysts say that will be one more nail in the coffin of Turkey's relations with the Assad government, and Damascus and its allies will have one more piece of evidence that the Syria conflict is spreading further into the region and showing no signs of abating. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.