Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—The General Assembly of the Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed anti-Assad opposition group, began electing a new political authority during a meeting in Istanbul on Saturday.
The meeting is expected to end on Sunday, as fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces continues to escalate in and around the capital and the coastal region.
The coalition is also set to evaluate and analyze its participation in the Geneva II talks during this weekend’s meeting, Coalition member Hisham Marwah told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“This meeting comes at a time when the Syrian opposition finds itself in a stronger position, after the Syrian National Council and the members who withdrew returned [to the Coalition],” he said, adding that the return of the withdrawn members “sends a clear message that the opposition has restored its unity.”
The Coalition’s decision to take part in the Geneva II talks—which saw the first face-to-face meeting between the government and opposition, who have been battling each other for more than three years—led to deep schisms within Syrian opposition ranks.
Protesting against the Syrian National Coalition’s decision to attend the controversial talks, several prominent opposition members and blocs resigned from the body.
Governments around the world have been calling for the Syrian government and the opposition hold a third round of talks after the second round, held in Montreux and Geneva this January, produced no results.
“This meeting will lead to the election of a new political authority for the opposition Coalition,” he said, adding that talks should also “expand the authority to include 25 seats or more, instead of [the current] 19.”
The current political authority includes 19 members, with Ahmad Al-Jarba as its president.
New health, and interior ministers are also expected to be appointed during the Istanbul meeting. They will be selected by a majority vote of the attendees.
On the ground in Syria, opposition fighters recaptured Observatory 45, in the north of the Lattakia governorate, on Friday after two days of violent clashes with government troops, opposition activist Omar Al-Jabalawi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The control of the Observatory, which is just 7 miles (12 kilometers) from the Turkish border, “allows the opposition forces a better view of the Kassab and the strategic coastal town of Ras Al-Basit,” he said.
Meanwhile, Syrian troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad continued their attempts to enter Meliha district, in the north of the Rif Dimashq governorate, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Government forces “renewed their shelling of the Meliha district with military warplanes carrying out six air raids on the town and its environs,” it said in a statement.