ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Syria’s main opposition coalition began a push Monday to form an interim government to provide services to people living in parts of the country now controlled by rebel forces.
The effort is the most serious yet by the forces opposing President Bashar Assad to establish a rival administration and bring together all the factions fighting Assad’s forces on the ground.
At the start of the conference Monday, there was no guarantee it would succeed. Two previous attempts to form an interim government failed because of divisions within the coalition, and some members said before the meeting Monday that it was unclear if they would agree this time.
But many said that this time, there is a new sense within the opposition that unification is necessary, as government retreats have expanded the size of the rebel-held zone that now encompasses much of Syria’s largest city Aleppo and one provincial capital, Raqqa.
Currently for practical purposes local rebel garrisons or community councils run villages and neighborhoods, with limited cooperation between them. Many communities have little electricity and no running water.
"What delayed this before was that there was no agreement on the importance of forming a government," said Burhan Ghalioun, coalition member and former head of its predecessor, the Syrian National Council. "Now people are convinced that a government is necessary."
Two years after the anti-Assad uprising began, the conflict has become a civil war, with hundreds of rebel group fighting Assad’s forces across Syrian and millions of people pushed from their homes by the violence. The U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed.
International diplomacy has failed to stop the bloodshed, and calls for a negotiated solution have gone nowhere.
In a stance that could frustrate their Western backers, including the United States, coalition members dismiss any possibility of negotiating with the current regime and insist they will talk only when Assad has left power. Many believe the only way to accomplish this is through continued advances by rebel forces.
"There has to be a military victory on the ground to convince the regime, or some elements in the regime," of the need for change, Ghalioun said. "The solution is not an end to the violence. This is linked to pushing the regime toward steps to a democratic system."
Twelve candidates have been nominated for Prime Minster, who will be elected by the coalition’s 73 members. The vote is expected by Tuesday.
It remained unclear Monday exactly when the vote would take place and who the final candidates would be. Some coalition members suggested that if they could not agree, they could form an executive commission.