Syrian Opposition Elects New Leader as Ceasefire Largely Holds

BEIRUT (dpa/TNS) -

The main Syrian opposition group Saturday elected a new leader as a Russian-American-brokered cease-fire entered its second week.

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 Islamic State and al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.

The Britain-based 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 under a term limit.

Al-Abdah, who mainly lives in London, is the founder of the opposition Movement for Justice and Development. 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 coming mainly from Latakia and the Idlib provinces along the border, were shot at by Turkish border guards during the night, according to the observatory. Ten others were wounded.

Activists based at the Turkish-Syria border described the incident as “a massacre committed against unarmed Syrian civilians.”

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.”

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.