Syrian opposition elects new leader as ceasefire reduces death toll

The main Syrian opposition grouping elected Saturday a new leader, as a Russian-US brokered ceasefire entered its second week, having drastically reduced the death toll in the country.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 135 people were killed during the first week of the truce in areas it affects. The deal excludes the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda's al-Nusra Front.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory said those killed included 32 civilians, among them seven children. In areas not affected by the ceasefire, fighting continued and more than 500 were killed.

Meanwhile, the Istanbul-based National Coalition of Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces elected Annas al-Abdah, a Western-backed moderate Islamist, as its new leader. The 49-year-old geologist replaces Khaled Khoja, who served for one year, as per term limits.

Al-Abdah, who mainly lives in London and has been a member of the coalition, is also the founder of the opposition Movement for Justice and Development (MJD). He is described by opposition figures as being "a pragmatic Muslim."  

Separately, nine Syrian refugees were killed while they were trying to smuggle themselves across the border into Turkey, activists said

The civilians, who were mainly coming from Latakia and the Idlib provinces along the border, were shot at by Turkish border guards during the night, according to the Observatory. Ten people were also wounded.

Activists based at the Turkish-Syria border spoke with dpa and described the incident as "a massacre committed against unarmed Syrian civilians."

Pictures and videos posted by activists on social media showed what they said were the bodies of the civilians killed by Turkish gunfire. These images cannot be independently verified.

Amnesty International reported last month that Turkish security forces have shot and injured civilians, including children, who "out of desperation have attempted to cross the border unofficially with the help of smugglers."

Syrian hospitals were receiving injured people almost daily as a result of the shooting incidents.

Officially, Turkey claims it has an open border policy for Syrians. However, the process of getting into Turkey is highly selective and tens of thousands of people are stranded on the Syrian side.

Turkey hosts more than 2 million Syrian refugees. 

Last update: Sat, 05/03/2016 - 16:35
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