Syrian rebels elect head of new military command

AMMAN Sat Dec 8, 2012 9:30pm IST

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian rebel groups have chosen Brigadier Selim Idris, a former officer in President Bashar al-Assad's army, to head their new Islamist-dominated military command, opposition sources said on Saturday.

Idris, whose home province of Homs has been at the forefront of the Sunni Muslim-led uprising, was elected by 30 military and civilian members of the joint military command after talks attended by Western and Arab security officials in the Turkish city of Antalia.

"Saleh is not ideological, but he has been appointed top aides who are close to Salafist rebels," one of the sources who has been following the meeting said.

The joint command named Islamist commanders Abdelbasset Tawil from the northern province of Idlib and Abdelqader Saleh from the adjacent province of Aleppo to serve as Idris's deputies, the source said.

The unified command includes many with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to Salafists, who follow a puritanical interpretation of Islam. It excludes the most senior officers who had defected from Assad's military.

Its composition, estimated to be two-thirds from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, reflects the growing strength of Islamist fighters on the ground and resembles that of the civilian opposition leadership coalition created under Western and Arab auspices in Qatar last month.

Absent from the group is Colonel Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Syrian Free Army and Brigadier Mustafa al-Sheikh, a senior officer known for his opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Asaad and Sheikh were not part of the 263-man meeting in Antalia. Also excluded was general Hussein Haj Ali, the highest ranking officer to defect from the military since the uprising erupted in March last year.

Security officials from the United States, Britain, France, the Gulf and Jordan have been attending the talks, which come days before a conference of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of countries that have mostly pledged non-military aid to rebels fighting to oust Assad. (Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Amman newsroom; editing by Jason Webb)

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