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Top leader of Syrian exile group’s government resigns

Bid to establish administration continues to falter

Syrian rebel fighters gathered around a former Syrian army tank Monday as they prepared to attack positions held by the government in an Aleppo neighborhood.

ABO MHIO/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian rebel fighters gathered around a former Syrian army tank Monday as they prepared to attack positions held by the government in an Aleppo neighborhood.

BEIRUT — The main Syrian exile opposition group suffered more turbulence Monday when the prime minister of its nascent interim government resigned, according to a spokeswoman.

The resignation came two days after the group elected a new president as it tries to unify and arm the rebels fighting the government of President Bashar Assad and to help civilians in rebel-held areas of Syria.

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The prime minister, Ghassan Hitto, was appointed in March to assemble an administration that would govern rebel-held territory. It was not immediately clear why he resigned.

But the opposition’s efforts to establish that administration and a unified military command, and to obtain greater military support from the West, remain fitful at best.

The United States and its allies have pledged to increase aid, but so far there has been little apparent impact, and members of the coalition have complained that it is hard to make progress when the West is not fully committed to helping them.

“The circumstances which have become known to all did not allow me to initiate work on the ground,” Hitto said in a statement on the group’s Facebook page announcing his resignation.

Hitto had taken a hard line against holding any talks with the Assad government, a stance that posed difficulties as the United States and Russia tried to organize peace talks in Geneva. Hitto was chosen after some members of the exile group, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, had criticized the coalition’s president, the Damascus religious scholar Moaz al-Khatib, for floating the idea of negotiating with elements of the government.

The group’s new president, Ahmad Assi al-Jarba, also expressed skepticism about talks in his first public statements on Sunday, declaring that the coalition would not attend the Geneva talks unless its military position improved first.

Hitto, a naturalized US citizen from Damascus who lived in Texas for years, was seen as a capable technocrat. He helped manage the exile group’s humanitarian aid effort.

But he faced several challenges: He was seen by some rebels and activists as out of touch with the country, and some members of the often-squabbling coalition complained that he was a favorite of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and of its main foreign backer, Qatar.

Jarba, who is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, a rival of Qatar for influence among the rebels, was seen as a counterweight to Hitto and his Muslim Brotherhood backers.

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