Western efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad have shifted dramatically, with Britain saying it will deal
directly with rebel military leaders and Turkey saying NATO members have discussed protecting a safe zone inside Syria with Patriot missiles.
The developments came within hours of President Barack Obama’s re-election on Tuesday, which US allies said they have been waiting for before implementing new strategies to end the deadlocked civil war that has killed more than 36,000 people over the past year and a half.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, said the US, Britain and other allies should do more to “shape the opposition” into a coherent force and open channels of communication directly with rebel military commanders.
Previously, Britain and the US have acknowledged contacts only with exile groups and political opposition figures inside Syria.
And a Turkish official said Turkey and allies, including the United States, have discussed the possibility of using Patriot missiles to protect a safe zone inside Syria.
The foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ministry prohibitions on contacts with the news media, said planning for the safe zone had been put on hold pending the US election.
He said any missile deployment might happen under a “NATO umbrella”, though NATO has insisted it will not intervene without a clear United Nations mandate.
“There is an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria,” Cameron said. “And try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad.”
Cameron is currently on a tour of the Middle East and speaking on Obama’s re-election said: “I am hearing appalling stories about what has happened inside Syria so one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.”
The news comes as the Syrian National Council’s (SNC) general assembly of nearly 420 members met on Wednesday to choose two leadership bodies and a president during a conference in the Qatari capital Doha.
Syria’s main opposition bloc has succumbed to intense international pressure from critics and begun electing new leaders to appease critics who say the exile-dominated group does not represent those risking their lives on the frontlines to oust the regime.
The SNC, largely made up of exiles, has been criticised as ineffective and out of touch with those trying to topple Assad.
The US has called for a more unified and representative opposition, suggesting an end to the SNC’s leadership.
SNC officials say the internal election may not be enough to deflect such criticism and halt US-backed efforts to set up an alternate leadership group.
Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Doha, said: “The new leadership will discuss an initiative given by an opposition member who is also a current of the SNC.
“That initiative is backed by the international community, France, US as well as Qatar, KSA and other countries. According to that initiative, a new council might emerge,” he said
“The SNC fears that that council might be a replacement to them and this is for the political wrangling and negotiations will be decisive for the fate of the Syrian revolution” he added.