In A New Setback, Syrian Opposition Splits With shells pound opposition fighters and civilians in Syria, the main opposition group has lost some of its most prominent members, who are forming a new organization.
NPR logo

In A New Setback, Syrian Opposition Splits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In A New Setback, Syrian Opposition Splits

In A New Setback, Syrian Opposition Splits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Syria says nearly 90 percent of voters endorsed constitutional reforms in a referendum Sunday. That's even as the Syrian army continued to pound rebel-held areas in several parts of the country.

It was a difficult day for the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council. Senior figures announced they were forming a new group criticizing in-fighting within the council.

NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Beirut on the split.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The most urgent news from Syria continues to come from the central city of Homs. This video appears to show an assault on the besieged neighborhood of Baba Amr.


KENYON: With no progress reported on a humanitarian ceasefire, Syrian opposition fighters, wounded civilians and Western journalists remain trapped for another day. One video showed a young boy apparently killed by deep and gruesome shrapnel wounds.

Away from the battle zone, the news was of more disunion and frustration. A group of veteran, well-respected opposition figures announced a split from the main Syrian National Council to form a new organization called the Syrian Patriotic Group. Led by attorney Haitham al-Maleh, Kamal al-Labwani and others, they said the new group would more urgently help defend Syrians against what Labwani called this killing regime.

Analyst and author Andrew Tabler, with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says the exiled opposition leaders in the SNC have never felt the same pressure to unify as the activists inside Syria, who are facing a daily artillery barrage.

ANDREW TABLER: People are forced to work together. You're forced to choose a leadership structure. You are forced to consolidate the position of elites in different communities, and unfortunately, the SNC was unable to do that. There was a lot of in-fighting.

KENYON: Reached by phone in Jordan, Kamal Labwani told NPR that the new group isn't opposing the SNC, per se, but the internal bickering has to stop. He also believes the Muslim Brotherhood has too strong and too opaque a role within the council.

As the opposition fractured, international disunity also flared again. Russia and China hit back at Western criticism of their veto of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria while the EU tightens sanctions on Damascus.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Meanwhile, video apparently from another Homs neighborhood, Haldia, showed more intense shelling and gunfire. The Red Cross reported that, for the first time in a month, an aid mission got into another central city, Hama, bringing food and supplies for 12,000 people for a month. Geneva-based spokesman Hicham Hassan told NPR that talks on access to Homs are continuing.

In Baba Amr itself, an activist using the name Abu Bakr said he hopes the new opposition group forces everyone to get together before it's too late to save the revolution.

ABU BAKR: (Through Translator) This Syrian Patriotic Group was formed because the national council is far from the pulse of the street, but we hope they will learn to work together to lead the revolution, not walk behind it the way they do now.

KENYON: The government, meanwhile, announced an 89 percent approval for constitutional reforms put to a referendum yesterday. The interior minister was quoted as saying turnout was good, despite what he called armed terrorist groups in some areas. Opposition figures dismissed the referendum as a sham.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.