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Syria Fighters Announce Command Structure

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SYRIA FIGHTERS COMMAND STRUCTURE
n this citizen journalism image taken on Saturday, March 24, 2012 and provided by Edlib News Network ENN, a Syrian boy stands next to damaged cars which were attacked from Syrian government forces shelling at Sarmeen town in Idlib province, northern Syria. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN) | AP


* Five colonels in Syria to coordinate with exiled leaders

* Armed and political opposition remain divided

By Oliver Holmes

BEIRUT, March 29 (Reuters) - Syria's armed opposition announced on Thursday a local command structure that aims to bring together disparate rebel groups inside the country under the command of defected officers exiled in neighbouring Turkey.

"We declare the formation of the joint command of the Free Syrian Army in Syria to be coordinated with the leadership of the Free Syrian Army outside (the country)," a Paris-based spokesman for the Supreme Rebel Military Council, Fahad al-Masri, said in a statement.

The move, which names five colonels in the flashpoint provinces of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir al-Zor and Damascus, was the latest in a string of attempts to unify armed opposition groups who have been fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

The head of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), Riad al-Asaad, said on Saturday a military council grouping exiled rebel chiefs, including Syria's most senior army deserter, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, had been formed.

Sheikh is the chairman of the council and Asaad is in charge of military operations.

Free Syrian Army officer Major Maher Ismail al-Naimi told Reuters that the new structure would be implemented immediately. "The Free Syrian Army is involved," he said by telephone.

The list includes a colonel named Qasim Saad al-Din from Homs, a focus of the armed revolt, who defected in February, and Colonel Khaled al-Haboush, who would direct military operations in the capital.

But Syria's armed and political opposition remain divided.

The FSA accuses the Syrian National Council (SNC), the mainly exiled political opposition group that has gained the ear of some international powers, of being out of touch with events on the ground in Syria.

After months of resisting calls to support the FSA, Burhan Ghalioun, head of the SNC, announced on March 1 the formation of a Military Bureau to "organise and unify" the armed opposition. But the FSA has rejected the group.

The United Nations says Syrian government forces have killed at least 9,000 people during the conflict, while the government says opposition fighters have killed around 3,000 soldiers and security forces personnel. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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