Churches and mosques have not escaped damage
Churches and mosques have not escaped damage Reuters

Syrian opposition forces both in the country and abroad are uniting to prepare for a transition to power in forming a new government for Syria, as troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad slowly lose their grip.

Despite the use of heavy artillery, constant shelling of residential areas and air strikes by the Syrian Air Force, -- not even houses of worship such as mosques, churches or any remaining synagogue have been spared -- grassroots protests are continuing throughout the nation.

The “Committee of the Wise” has become the new representative body for the Syrian opposition, according to an exclusive report published Tuesday in the A-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper. The council was formed to unite all the disparate Syrian opposition factions in preparation for a transition to manage the country.

Formation of the 12 to 15-member committee was originally proposed by former Syrian National Council (SNC) chairman Burhan Ghalioun, according to “Committee” member Michel Kilo. The new body, said Kilo, will be tasked with “managing everything regarding the transitional period in order to bridge the gap between the different opposition factions, in preparation for a transition to democracy.”

As with Libya's National Transitional Council, a key condition for membership in the body was an agreement to return home and not seek political office when the transition is complete. Invited members thus far were those from opposition, neutral and independent movements, Kilo said, “who are not with the [Syrian] regimes, and this includes religious figures as well.” He also denied that Egypt's foreign ministry was connected with the Committee. 

An SNC official who requested anonymity also told the newspaper, “The figures that have been agreed upon are well known to the Syrian street for their fairness, and they do not have personal political ambitions. Their role will be essential in putting forward ideas and proposals for the period following the ouster of the Syrian regime ...  for the formation of a political democratic system that will meet the aspirations and dreams of the Syrian people.”

More than 30,000 people have died so far in the savage civil war that began with a young teenager's scrawled protest slogan on a wall in Dera'a in March 2011, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings that were sweeping through the region. The brutal response of government security forces to that act -- the arrest and torture of the boy -- led to country-wide protests, initially peaceful but increasingly aggressive as the Syrian Army shot and killed hundreds, while arresting and torturing thousands more.

Eventually even members of the government's own army began to defect, sickened by the orders they were told to carry out, creating an independent "Free Syrian Army" and setting the stage for increasing defections by higher-placed officials within the government itself.

Among those who fled was Assad's 52-year-old sister Bushra, who relocated to the United Arab Emirates and settled with her five children in  Dubai. Her late husband, General Assef Shawkat, was deputy chief of staff of the Syrian Armed Forces and former head of the Syrian Military Intelligence. Shawkat was a top member of Assad's inner circle, and one of a group of top regime officials who were killed in a bombing by opposition forces on July 18 in Damascus.