Syria opposition agree to coalition to fight Assad

The new coalition will be made up of groups inside and outside Syria.

DOHA, Syria - Syrian opposition groups have signed an initial agreement to form a new coalition of forces fighting to end the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian delegates at talks in Doha said on Sunday.

"An initial deal has been signed. The evening session will be for electing the president of the body and his deputy," Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, a Muslim Brotherhood delegate, told reporters.

The new body, made up of groups inside and outside Syria, would be called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, delegates said.

The group's leader, once chosen, will automatically become the focal point for opposition activities.

U.S. diplomats and officials from Qatar, which has bankrolled opposition to Assad and played a major role in Arab diplomacy against him, have prodded the players over the past week to come to an arrangement.

The parties were close to a deal in the early hours of Sunday after Qatari and United Arab Emirates officials pressed them to agree, but it appeared to fall through when the meeting broke up at 3 a.m.

The Syrian National Council, which has led overseas opposition activity over the past year, had lost the confidence of Washington and other powers who saw it as ineffective and riven with personal disputes.

The new plan involves a 55- or 60-member assembly alongside a military council including rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army and a judicial council.

It will seek to obtain international recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and form a ten-member government-in-waiting, SNC member Wael Merza told Reuters.

At the talks in Doha bringing together various opposition groups, the SNC had been concerned at being sidelined in the wider body, a U.S.-backed proposal presented by prominent dissident Riad Seif.

A source inside the meeting said the SNC had asked to continue the talks on Sunday but that it would be a "last chance", suggesting that opposition figures behind the U.S.-backed initiative are threatening to go ahead without the SNC.

International backers of the opposition fear that rapidly changing events on the ground could lead to Assad's rule collapsing and jihadist militias seizing the initiative in a power vacuum if no opposition body abroad is in a position to step in immediately.

Anti-Assad protests erupted nearly 20 months ago, meeting a violent response which led to a conflict that has cost more than 38,000 lives and threatens to spill into neighboring countries.

Additional reporting by Regan Doherty; Writing by Andrew Hammond