The head of the Syrian National Coalition has won a second term. The Western-backed opposition group currently faces divisions within its ranks over whether to attend upcoming international peace talks in Geneva.
Members of the Syrian National Coalition re-elected Ahmad al-Jarba to a second sixth-month term on Sunday during a general assembly meeting in Istanbul. Al-Jarba won 65-52 against former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
Sources from the SNC said al-Jarba was expected to focus on strengthening the opposition group's political and military power.
The Coalition also elected vice presidents Noura Al-Amir and Faruq Tayfur and was still due to select a secretary general.
Al-Jarba to 'make good progress'
"The priority should be to reorganize [the SNC's] military wing, work on the political solution, the interim government and increasing humanitarian help," senior coalition member Anas Abdah told Reuters news agency, adding that he expected the re-elected leader to "make good progress" during his second term.
The SNC's continued military and political efforts to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power have faltered in recent months.
The situation for opposition fighters in northern Syria has raised particular concerns over their ability to push back al-Assad's military forces, as well as the rise of in-fighting within the opposition as becoming the next front of the Syrian civil war.
In early December, the United States and Britain suspended non-lethal aid to opposition fighters in response to the influx of extremist foreign militias. Since then, rebel groups have not only faced the challenge of receiving less foreign assistance, but also growing tensions with an extremist faction linked to al Qaeda: the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Reports from the weekend indicated that tensions between rebels and the extremist ISIL had led to clashes in northern Syria. News agency AFP reported that ISIL killed at least 50 opposition fighters in direct clashes, car bombings and executions.
SNC undecided on Geneva talks
The SNC also faces divisions over upcoming international peace talks in Geneva, dubbed "Geneva 2," which are slated for January 22. It is to decide on Monday whether it will attend.
Members of the group's opposition blocs fear entering into direct peace talks with President al-Assad could undermine its support among Syrians who want the president's resignation as a precondition for negotiations.
One of the SNC's major opposition blocs, the Syrian National Council, announced late last week it wouldn't attend the upcoming conference, citing the West's failure to put enough pressure on al-Assad to give up power.
An SNC source said al-Jarba did not support the planned peace talks either.
"Ahmad Jarba does not want to go to Geneva," SNC council member Samir Nashar told AFP news agency.
It was not immediately clear how large of an influence al-Jarba would have over Monday's vote.
Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since fighting broke out between President al-Assad's military and opposition fighters in March 2011. The civil war has led to the internal displacement of several million people, as well as an influx of over two million Syrian refugees into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel, according to figures from the United Nations.
kms/lw (AP, AFP, Reuters)