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U.S. tech executive elected prime minister of Syrian rebel coalition

March 19, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a weapon against Syrian Army positions in Saif Al Dawla district of Aleppo, Syria. Syrians marked the second anniversary of the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime on March 15 amid ongoing violence.
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires a weapon against Syrian Army positions… (EPA )

BEIRUT -- The major Syrian opposition group early Tuesday elected a U.S.-educated Syrian activist to serve as prime minister of rebel-controlled areas of Syria, news agencies reported.

Named to the post was Ghassan Hitto, a native of Damascus who has been living in the United States for decades, working recently as a technology executive, according to various news service reports.

Hitto, little known outside Syrian exile circles, has been active in humanitarian efforts to aid Syrians during the nation's two-year conflict, reports indicated.

Hitto was named to the post in an election at a meeting in Istanbul of the U.S-backed umbrella group known as the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. The group was formed last year amid pressure from the United States and other allies to unify the often fractious ranks of the Syrian opposition.

Some opposition factions remain outside of the coalition and do not recognize its authority. Syrian exiles dominate the coalition.

The coalition has been trying for months to name a prime minister to govern rebel-controlled zones of Syria and bolster its authority. But deep divisions within the coalition hindered the effort. Hitto apparently emerged as a consensus candidate.

What power he will have remains unclear.

Scores of rebel militias hold sway inside opposition-controlled swaths of Syria. Some rebel commanders have been dismissive of the opposition coalition.

The security situation in rebel-controlled zones of Syria remains tenuous. Syrian government aircraft and artillery regularly bombard rebel-held areas throughout the country.

Also unclear is whether Hitto will be based inside Syria or abroad.

The opposition is fighting to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad. The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have died in the more than 2-year-old conflict.

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Special correspondent Nabih Bulos contributed to this report.

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