Syria's opposition has elected a new president to represent it as the battle on the ground rages. Meanwhile, two members of a German aid group who went missing in Syria are said to be alive, well, and on their way home.
The election of Ahmad al-Jarba as the head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) came during a meeting in Turkey. He is a former Syrian political prisoner with close links to Saudi Arabia.
The opposition coalition also elected three vice presidents: Salem al-Muslit, Suhair Atassi and Mohammed Farouk Taifour, a senior official with Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. The coalition voted for Badr Jamous as secretary-general.
The meeting represents the second attempt in recent months to unify the opposition. The SNC counts on little support inside Syria, where civilians primarily concern themselves with trying to survive the third summer of a conflict that has killed more than 93,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes. In late May, the opposition leaders met for more than a week in Istanbul, but failed to elected new leaders or devise a strategy for possible peace talks that the U.S. and Russia have been trying to convene in Geneva.
'Pray for him'
Although the German Foreign Ministry announced the release of two citizens, the fate of a third missing person is unknown. The Grünhelme (Green Helmets) aid organization announced last weekend that three of its members were missing and were believed to have been kidnapped. According to Grünhelme, they were taken by unknown persons on May 14, from the town of Harem in Syria's Idlib district.
The two men released were identified as Bernd Blechschmidt and Simon Sauer. Ziad Nouri remains missing.
The Grünhelme vice president, Aiman Mazyek, wrote on Twitter: "Bernd and Simon are free. The third, Ziad Nouri, not yet. Pray for him."
The German Foreign Ministry announced that it was trying to determine the whereabouts of the missing third person, understood to be a 72-year-old engineer.
"The crisis cell is working hard to clear up the disappearance of another German citizen reported missing in Syria," a spokesman said.
The battles rage
On the ground in Syria, meanwhile, government troops gained ground in the rebel-held Khaldiyeh district of the city of Homs. The push into Khaldiyeh represents the first significant gain in the city for Assad's forces. Government troops have waged an eight-day campaign to seize parts of the central city, a rebel stronghold for over a year.
Fighting also continued Saturday in the northern city of Aleppo, another crucial stronghold for the rebels, as well as the Damascus suburb of Qaboun.
The conflict began a little over two years ago with peaceful protests against the Assad regime, but deteriorated into an all-out civil war after a violent government crackdown. Loyalist forces, sometimes backed by fighters of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, have launched a major countrywide offensive to reclaim territory lost to rebels.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)