Syrian opposition choose leader

Coalition of anti-Assad leaders unite behind moderate Muslim cleric after marathon talks Haytham al-Maleh (left) congratulates Maath al-Khatib on his election. Photo / AP
Coalition of anti-Assad leaders unite behind moderate Muslim cleric after marathon talks Haytham al-Maleh (left) congratulates Maath al-Khatib on his election. Photo / AP

Syria's opposition has agreed to unite against Bashar al-Assad and elected a cleric as its first leader, as Israel fired warning shots into the war-torn country after mortar fire hit the Golan Heights.

After four days of marathon talks in Qatar, the Syrian National Council finally signed up to a wider, more representative bloc centred on a government-in-waiting, as demanded by Arab and Western states.

Muslim cleric Maath al-Khatib, 52, a moderate originally from Damascus, was elected to head the newly formed opposition grouping.

Reservations in Syrian National Council ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition's Arab and Western supporters.

But after negotiations ran into the early hours and resumed in the afternoon, the anti-Assad factions agreed to form a "National Coalition of Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition".

"We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition," said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the US-backed reform proposals on which the agreement was based.

In a copy of the document, the parties "agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars", and rule out any dialogue with the regime.

They agreed to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas.

A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen.

Former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who fled to neighbouring Jordan in August, hailed the agreement as "an advanced step towards toppling the regime".

Earlier, the Israeli army said a mortar round fired from Syria had hit one of its positions on the Golan plateau.

The Israeli army fired a single Tamuz anti-tank missile in response, a weapon known for being highly accurate, towards the Syrian outpost from which the mortar round was fired.

"We shot toward them, but deliberately missed," one said.

Chief military spokesman Yoav Mordechai said it was Israel's first firing across the armistice line since the 1973 Middle East war. Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned Israel would respond to any more fire from Syria.

"Syria has been in the midst of a brutal civil war for over a year, and the IDF has been instructed to prevent the battles from spilling over ... Additional shelling into Israel from Syria will elicit a tougher response, exacting a higher price from Syria," he said.

-AFP

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