The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) says that it is proceeding with the process of naming an interim prime minister and will hold a meeting next week to settle the issue. The SNC’s representative in London, Walid Suffour, confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the discussions of a provisional government and an interim prime minister would be taking place at the next meeting of the organization, when he said a “final decision” would be made.
A meeting scheduled for this week was called off, reportedly because the organization was divided over the decision to create an alternative government-in-exile immediately, or follow an existing UN plan to create a transitional government with elements of the current regime.
According to the US State Department’s former special adviser on Syria, the US and UK are also reluctant to back the creation of a rival, opposition-led government in Syria. Writing on the Atlantic Council’s blog, Frederic Hof said that they feared “it could cause Syria’s existing ministries and government offices to collapse, pouring tens of thousands of unemployed officials onto an already moribund economy and perilous security situation.”
The British Foreign Office has denied the claim, saying “It is up to the Syrian National Coalition to decide when is the appropriate time to establish an interim government.”
In regards to the fighting in Syria, two new reports from Western think-tanks claim that the military forces of Bashar Al-Assad are coming under increasing strain.
New analysis from the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) claims that the Syrian Army’s effective strength has halved over the course of the past years from an original total of 220,000 troops. Furthermore, it argues that the regime can only truly rely on a core force of approximately 50,000 troops from trusted units like its Republican Guard.
The claims are echoed by Washington’s Institute for the Study of War, which published a report this week saying that the Syrian government relies on a loyal core force of around 65,000 men from the most trusted and reliable units, while the rest have been sidelined to prevent wide-scale defections.
The report’s author, Joseph Holliday, writes that: “The regime’s over-reliance [on] a small proportion of its total force has resulted in tremendous fatigue among the loyal one-third of the Syrian Army that has been fighting for over a year without leave.”
Nonetheless, despite the strains he concludes that Assad has sufficient forces to stave off defeat in the short term, and is “well situated to continue fighting in 2013 and to prevent the opposition from taking over the rest of the country.”
Iran is also maintaining its links with Assad’s embattled government, and has stepped-up its provision of weapons and assistance to Syrian government forces, according to anonymous diplomatic sources quoted by the news agency Reuters, ensuring that Syrian forces remain well-armed.
In contrast, international disagreements about the policy of arming the Syria opposition continued this week. At a meeting with the UK’s foreign secretary in London on Wednesday, the Russian foreign minister said that any transfer of weapons to groups fighting the Syrian government was illegal.
Speaking at a press conference, he told reporters that supplying arms to non-government groups was “a violation of international law.”
This followed statements from UK and French leaders that they were considering supplying arms to the Syrian opposition.
Amnesty International also released a report this week, claiming that the number of war crimes committed by Syrian opposition forces, including summary executions, torture and kidnappings, was growing.
The organization’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Ann Harrison, said: “While the vast majority of war crimes and other gross violations continue to be committed by government forces, our research also points to an escalation in abuses by armed opposition groups.”
She called upon the United Nations Security Council to refer offenders to the International Criminal Court, “so that there can be accountability for these horrendous crimes.”