ISTANBUL – Syria’s political opposition met Thursday in Istanbul to elect new leadership, choose a government-in-exile and deliberate on a negotiating stance for peace talks, but it hit a controversy when the immediate past president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a Muslim cleric who no longer holds any post in the group, presided over the opening session and released a surprise peace initiative.
It wasn’t clear why Mouaz al Khatib was even in the chair to open the meetings. Khatib has twice resigned as the president of the group, and the coalition – formally called the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces – had appointed an acting president, George Sabra, a Christian, to replace Khatib in late April. It was Sabra who had represented the coalition Wednesday at a meeting in Amman, Jordan, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The confusion was indicative of the difficulty the coalition has had organizing itself since it was willed into existence last October after the United States declared that it no longer had confidence in another Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council. Since then, however, the new organization has missed several deadlines for appointing a government that would rule should President Bashar Assad fall.