BEIRUT, Lebanon — The main Syrian opposition group is pushing to form a breakaway interim government to rein in chaotic rebel-held areas in the north. But it faces objections from within its own ranks amid fears that such a move is premature and could lead to the fragmentation of the country.
The differing views will be put to the test at a two-day meeting starting Monday in Istanbul, where supporters hope to name a prime minister to oversee the formation of an interim government. Two previous attempts were postponed over seemingly intractable differences.
"We are in desperate need for an interim government, a recognized civilian entity that can restore law and order and secure basic services to liberated areas," said Walid al-Bunni, a spokesman for the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. "Otherwise we are headed toward a very bad situation."
State institutions have all but collapsed in areas where the Syrian military withdrew, leaving many communities to fend for themselves with little electricity and sometimes no running water.
It is unclear how much sway, if any, interim opposition leaders would hold over the rebels in Syria, where local units made up of tens of thousands of autonomous fighters have very little central organization or command structure.
On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States was trying to help foster a "preliminary conversation" among Syrians about how to fill a transitional government.
"We are not going to decide. The Syrians are going to decide," she told reporters. "We are encouraging the Russians to see if the Syrian government can put forward anybody who would be acceptable."
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani echoed the U.S. position Thursday in an online briefing.
The comments came as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and Britain are ready to help arm Syrian rebel fighters even if other European Union countries disagree.