Syrian opposition coalition elects president; Assad troops advance in Homs
Ahmad Jarba, a tribal leader with connection to Saudi Arabia, will head the National Coalition; Syrian government forces make first significant gains in the embattled city of Homs.
The main Syrian opposition National Coalition elected Ahmad Jarba as its president on Saturday after a close runoff vote held in Istanbul, coalition members said.
Jarba is a tribal figure from the eastern province of Hasaka who has connections with Saudi Arabia. He defeated businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, Qatar's point man in the opposition.
"A change was needed," Adib Shishakly, a senior official in the coalition, told Reuters.
"The old leadership of the coalition had failed to offer the Syrian people anything substantial and was preoccupied with internal politics. Ahmad Jarba is willing to work with everybody.
Also on Saturday, Syrian troops have advanced into rebel-held areas of the city of Homs, pushing into a heavily contested neighborhood after pummeling it with artillery that drove out opposition fighters, an activist said.
The push into Khaldiyeh district was the first significant gain for troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who have been waging an eight-day campaign to seize parts of the central Syrian city in rebel hands for over a year.
Tariq Badrakhan, an activist based in the neighborhood, said government troops used rockets, mortars and cannon fire to flush out the area's "first line of defenses" on Friday evening. The offensive continued Saturday morning, he said via Skype, as explosions were heard in the background.
Another activist said eight rebels were killed in the fighting. He requested anonymity because rebels have accused him in the past of damaging their morale by reporting their casualties. He could not confirm that government forces had entered Khaldiyeh but said it was consistent with fighting he was following there. State-run media said government forces had seized buildings in the nearby Bab Houd area.
On Thursday night, several powerful blasts were heard at a weapons depot belonging to the Syrian military, according to. BBC Arabic radio reported that the explosions took place near the port of Latakia in Syria's north.
Subsequent reports offered few new details and drew limited attention. Among them was a statement by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said that "huge explosions shook the area where a large Syrian army base and weapons depots are located."