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Syrian opposition plunges into disarray

| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 8:33 p.m.

Syria's opposition hit a wall on Sunday as its president quit and its military chief refused to recognize the newly elected prime minister of an interim government for rebel-held areas.

The problems reflect deep divides in the body the United States and its allies hope will advance the fight to topple President Bashar Assad's regime.

The missteps of the opposition's mostly exiled political leadership drew little notice inside Syria, where rebel fighters dismissed it as ineffective and pushed ahead with their offensive to gain ground near the country's southern border with Jordan. Nearby, the Israeli military in the Golan Heights responded to fire by shooting back at targets inside Syria.

The first blow to the opposition Syrian National Coalition was the surprise resignation of its president, who said he was quitting because of frustration over what he called lack of international support and constraints imposed by the body.

Mouaz al-Khatib, who rose to prominence as a preacher in Damascus' most famous mosque, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that he was making good on an earlier vow to quit if undefined “red lines” were crossed. He blamed world powers for not offering Syria's rebels the support they demand, and he complained that “international and regional parties” tried to push the coalition toward negotiations with the Assad regime — something most members refuse.

Despite electing a U.S.-educated prime minister last week to head a planned interim government, the coalition has failed to make much of a mark inside Syria, where hundreds of independent rebel brigades are fighting a civil war against Assad's forces.

Reflecting the growing dissension over that move, the head of the coalition's military branch, Gen. Salim Idris, said his group refused to recognize the prime minister, a little-known IT professional from Texas, because he lacked broad support among the opposition.

An aide to Idris, Louay Almokdad, said many prominent Syrian opposition figures opposed the election of Ghassan Hitto, who received 35 out of 48 votes cast by the coalition's 63 active members.

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