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Weekend meltdown sends opposition back to square one

Syrian refugee children peek from their tent at the Bab Al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz, near the Syrian-Turkish border on March 25, 2013.

REUTERS

It's been a chastening few days for the Syrian opposition.

Opposition head Moaz al-Khateeb resigned on Sunday in order to "work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution," and blamed the international community for its inaction (his statement here). His National Coalition colleagues then refused to accept his resignation.

The secular elements of the Syrian rebel force known as the Free Syrian Army says it won't recognize new interim rebel prime minister Ghassan Hitto because of what it perceived as a flawed election process (that saw Canadian Osama Kadi beaten out), according to the organization's political and media co-ordinator Louay Meqdad

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Suhair Atassi, vice-president of the opposition National Coalition, froze her membership of the group last Wednesday. She said she was tired of the endless conferences and meeting while the slaughter went on inside the country. And on Sunday, leading rebel commander Riad al-Asaad was apparently critically injured in a blast close to the eastern city of Deir Ez Zour.

Added to all this, the regime has blamed the opposition for the killing of 84-year-old cleric Mohammad al-Buti in Damascus last Thursday which has sent many Syrians, disgusted by the act, to the side of the regime. The sheikh was then buried next to the medieval Muslim hero and Crusader -fighting Salahadin in Damascus, angering activists and opposition forces.

Two years on and perhaps 70,000 people dead, it seems Syria's political and military opposition is back at square one.

What does all this mean? It probably adds several months before the Assad regime does actually fall in Damascus and, with that, several thousand more deaths. It will also likely make it that much more difficult to piece the country back together -- that is, to establish a functioning state in place of that constructed by the Assads. It also means that Syrians will be even more divided when it comes to looking each other in the eye and getting on with life when the conflict ends. (Several Syrian Christians I spoke to in Damascus over the weekend were particularly outraged by Sheikh al-Buti's killing, whom they saw as an innocent, harmless old man – they blamed the opposition.)

But most of all it leads many to ask the question: who is there to lead Syria? Most recognize Bashar al-Assad's days are numbered, and the alarming question for many Syrians – and international observers – is what then?

All the while, radical Islamist fighters take more Syrian territory. On Saturday Jabhat al-Nusra and the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade groups took several military bases in the country's south after more than two weeks of attacks. When it looked like things could not get much worse, they just have.

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About the Author

Stephen Starr lived in Syria for five years until February 2012 and covered the revolt as a freelance journalist. He is the author of' Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising'. More

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