ISTANBUL, Turkey — Syria's opposition coalition early today elected a little-known American-educated information technology manager and Islamic activist to head an interim government to administer the areas seized by rebels from the forces of President Bashar Assad.
Ghassan Hitto, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen, received 35 votes out of 48 ballots cast by the opposition Syrian National Coalition's 63 active members during a meeting in Istanbul.
Hitto has lived in the United States for decades and recently moved from Texas to Turkey to help coordinate aid to rebel-held areas. Asked what his interim government's first priority would be, he said he planned to give a speech today outlining his plans.
Coalition members hope the new government will unite the rebels fighting Assad's forces on the ground and provide services to Syrians living in rebel-held areas, many of which have been battered by the country's civil war.
But the new government faces huge challenges, starting with its ability to gain recognition from rebel factions on the ground. As rebels have progressed in northern and eastern Syria, a patchwork of rebel groups and local councils have sought to fill the void left by the government's withdrawal by organizing security patrols, reopening bakeries and running courts and prisons. It is unclear if these groups will accept an outside authority, especially if it is headed by someone who has spent decades abroad.
The creation of an interim government renders even more remote the chances of ending the war through negotiations with Assad's government — the preferred solution of the United States and other world powers.
Washington has been cool to the idea of a rebel government to rival Assad's and supports a peace plan put forward by the United Nations and the Arab League that calls for the formation of a transitional government that represents the regime and the opposition.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the Obama administration wants to leave the door open for a political solution. Regarding the rebels, he also said the United States would not "stand in the way of other countries that made a decision to provide arms, whether it's France or Britain or others."