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Middle east

Syria opposition PM rules out talks with Damascus

© AFP

Video by Kate Moody , Luke SHRAGO

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2013-03-19

The newly-elected head of Syria’s opposition coalition – Western-educated businessman and Islamist activist, Ghassan Hitto - on Tuesday ruled out negotiations with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Syria's opposition will not enter into dialogue with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the country's newly elected rebel prime minister said Tuesday in his inaugural speech.

Claims and counter-claims of chemical attacks

Syria’s information minister speaking on state TV Tuesday accused rebels of using chemical weapons in an attack on Aleppo, killing 16 people and wounding 86. A Syrian rebel commander denied the report, saying that regime forces had launched a Scud missile with chemical agents.

(Source: REUTERS)
 

"We confirm to the great Syrian people that there will be no dialogue with the Assad regime," Ghassan Hitto said.

Hitto was chosen early Tuesday by a majority of the main opposition National Coalition members, after hours of closed-door consultations.

The 50-year-old will be tasked with setting up an interim government which would be based in rebel-held territory in Syria.

The election comes some two months after Coalition chief Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib proposed talks with regime officials with conditions, including that some "160,000 detainees" be released.

Several Coalition members told AFP the election of an interim rebel premier and the establishment of a government cancelled out the possibility of talks with the regime.

"The regime ended that proposal (for talks), not the opposition. The idea behind the proposal was to relieve the Syrian people's pain," Coalition chief Khatib told AFP.

"The proposal for talks ended before we elected an interim prime minister," he added.

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 Assad regime," said Hitto, while pledging to offer "all possible assistance" to residents living in areas free from army control.

What lies next for the new Syrian opposition PM
"We promise that we will face the challenges together," said Hitto, a former IT executive who spent years living in the United States.

"The aim of this government will not be based on political interests. We will choose its ministers and advisors based on their technical and professional capacity," he added.

The opposition aims to help run daily life in large swathes of rebel territory mired in poverty and insecurity.

Hitto said his interim government, which opponents believe should be formed within a month, will "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.

Syria's first rebel premier also said the new government will coordinate with international humanitarian agencies to bring in much-needed aid, and "run border controls" that have fallen into rebel hands.

Free Syrian Army chief of staff Selim Idriss has already said that the insurgents would work under the umbrella of the provisional government.

Hitto's resume touts 25 years of experience with high-tech and telecommunications companies, including 16 years in executive management roles. Most recently he lived in the US state of Texas.

Last November he abruptly quit his job "to join the ranks of the Syrian revolution."

Supporters have praised his knack for building diplomatic ties that have been key to securing financial support for Syrians displaced by the conflict.

The Syrian conflict, now entering its third year, has killed some 70,000 people and forced millions to flee from their homes, according to the United Nations.

(AFP)

Date created : 2013-03-19

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