Monday, January 22, 2018

U.S. yanks support for Syrian opposition group, warns of extremist takeover of uprising

ZAGREB, Croatia — The Obama administration on Wednesday renounced the proclaimed leaders of the Syrian political opposition and said any group seeking to oust President Bashar Assad must reject attempts by extremists to "hijack" a legitimate revolution.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Syrian National Council, or SNC, should no longer be considered the "visible leader" of the opposition. That made official what has been the increasingly obvious sidelining of an opposition group led mostly by middle-age Syrian expatriates.

"This cannot be an opposition represented by people who have many good attributes but have in many instances not been inside Syria for 20, 30 or 40 years," Clinton said during a five-nation Balkans tour. "There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines fighting and dying today."

The United States has no direct power to anoint the would-be new leaders of Syria, but U.S. backing will be essential for any hopefuls seeking outside financial, diplomatic or possible military assistance. The United States is supporting new opposition leaders who will attend a strategy session in Qatar next week, Clinton said.

Clinton had some of her strongest words to date about the risk that the uprising could be overtaken by militants who do not seek a democratic replacement.

"We also need an opposition that will be on record strongly resisting the efforts by extremists to hijack the Syrian revolution," Clinton said. "There are disturbing reports of extremists going into Syria and attempting to take over what has been a legitimate revolution against an oppressive regime for their own purposes."

Syria pounds rebel strongholds: Syrian warplanes fired missiles at opposition strongholds around Damascus and in the north Wednesday.

The Syrian regime has intensified airstrikes in recent days following the failure of a U.N.-backed truce over a four-day holiday that never took hold. Activists said at least 110 people were killed nationwide in airstrikes, artillery shelling and fighting Wednesday.

The casualties pushed the death toll since the conflict began in March 2011 to more than 36,000, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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