| Global Times | 2012-8-20 1:05:03
By Hao Zhou and Qiu Yongzheng in Istanbul
A senior member of the Syrian National Council (SNC) said that a majority of the main opposition group have reached a consensus that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is able to "overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's government within three months," while main Western powers who threw their weight behind the Syrian opposition have started to consult with each other about the post-Assad era.
In an exclusive interview with the Global Times last week, Bekir Atacan, a Syrian Turkmen leader who lived in exile for over three decades in Istanbul, said the government forces controlled only around 60 percent of Aleppo in the vital battle for the largest commercial hub of Syria.
While the rest of Aleppo's downtown areas were in the hands of the FSA, the entire outskirts of Aleppo has been "liberalized" from the government's control, according to Atacan. "I have freely, but illegally, passed the Turkey-Syria border and sneaked into Aleppo twice in the past two weeks" to check the ground situation there, Atacan said.
The rich and middle-class Syrians who had been supporting Assad are fleeing the heightened conflicts in large scale, with the UN withdrawing its military observer mission after a bomb attack on a Damascus hotel used by the UN, Atacan said.
That's why a majority of the SNC members believe the FSA "is able to take full control of Aleppo in one month and need another two months to take over Damascus," the senior SNC member and an English liaison officer told the Global Times. "In total, we need three months to overthrow the Assad regime."
Another opposition official told the Sunday Times weekly newspaper that British intelligence was covertly monitoring the movement of Syrian troops in their Cyprus military bases and giving the information to the FSA through Turks. German spies are stationed off the Syrian coast and are passing on information designed to help rebels in their fight against Assad, the Bild am Sonntag weekly reported on Sunday.
However, in a report carried by Syria's official SANA news agency on Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said, "Those who think that the Syrian Arab army will be defeated are dreaming."
Bouthaina Shaaban, a politics and media adviser to Assad, also said last week during a visit to China that all the rumors about how soon the Syrian government is going to fall since the beginning of the 17-month-old turmoil have been proved groundless.
"Lies must be stopped, and it's time for the Syrian opposition and their Western backers to end the bloodshed and violence through sincere dialogues," Shaaban said.
While hosting Shaaban, China's foreign ministry also said it was considering inviting the Syrian opposition to visit China in the near future.
But Atacan said the SNC so far hasn't received any invitation from Beijing since the visit by former SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun to China in early May.
Although declining to specify how the SNC is preparing for the "post-Assad era," Atacan revealed that the SNC was scheduled to convene in Istanbul on Friday and a shadow government would hopefully be established "within weeks."
"We are also planning to enlarge the SNC from the current 210 members to 350 members after one month," Atacan told the Global Times.
Dismissing worries about the role of Islamic extremists, who are also fighting government forces in Syria, after the collapse of Assad's government, Atacan said the new Syrian government will not tolerate radical Islamists and there would not be a hotbed in Syria's secular society.
"We will drive them out of Syria after we topple the Assad family. But now the FSA doesn't have the spare energy to tackle them," Atacan said.
Agencies contributed to this story
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