* Former SNC member Kassis says driven out of organisation
* Says SNC quiet on Islamist threat, no talks with Alawites
* Kassis to form alternative opposition bloc, seek funding
By John Irish
PARIS, Aug 23 A former member of the Syrian
National Council, who says she was driven out of the leading
opposition group after expressing fear about Islamist
domination, said on Thursday President Bashar al-Assad would
fall only when ruling minority Alawites jumped ship.
Randa Kassis, a Paris-based secular opposition figure, said
the SNC was ignoring the rise in Salafist and al Qaeda fighters
in the country and had little contact with the Alawites, let
alone a strategy to convince them to swap sides.
"Without the defection of the Alawites, we won't be able to
do anything and we will go straight into civil war," Kassis told
Reuters. What began last year as a mostly peaceful protest
movement against Assad's rule is now an armed insurrection led
by rebels from the majority Sunni Muslim community.
Kassis, a writer and anthropologist, said she would unveil a
new Syrian opposition bloc - The Movement for a Pluralist
Society - in September to challenge the faction-ridden SNC.
It would, she said, be comprised of religious and ethnic
minorities, including Druze, Christians and Kurds, as well as
secular and pluralist members.
Among those supporting her are Omar Idelbi, from the Local
Coordinating Committee in Syria, film director Jamal Suleiman,
and Imad Houssari, an SNC member and member of the local
coordinating committee in Damascus, she said.
Separate Syrian opposition groups have floated proposals for
a transitional government over the last month, a sign that
differences among the many factions opposing Assad are deepening
even as rebels have made gains on the battlefields.
With fighting reaching the capital Damascus and commercial
centre Aleppo, Western countries are increasingly anxious for
the disparate opposition factions to agree on a credible plan
for a transitional government to succeed Assad.
Kassis said she was sceptical any transitional government
would be put in place, given the long history of mutual mistrust
among Syrians after decades of police state repression.
She said her group's primary objective would be to organise
mass defections, especially within the Alawite community that
she said would hit the regime "hard."
Their families would first have to be smuggled out of the
country, a feat only accomplished with the help of major powers.
There have been no known defections by powerful Alawites
close to Assad but some high-ranking Sunni Muslims have bolted,
including Prime Minister Riyad Hijab who fled Syria on Aug. 6. A
trickle of defections from army ranks has raised rebel morale.
"We are working with Alawites - the children of the old
guard - to convince Alawites to defect," she said. "I don't
think there will be any for the first few months, because how do
you reassure a community that feels in danger?"
Financing is her group's main obstacle, Kassis said, adding
that the SNC and rebel fighters had received funds from Islamist
groups in the Gulf and the Muslim Brotherhood, helping them to
create an "illusion" of legitimacy.
As a result, Kassis said, she would be lobbying
anti-Islamist groups for financial backing. She urged Western
powers to push Gulf Arab countries concerned with the rise of
Islamists to channel their funds towards her group rather than
to the SNC.
"I have to try. We're on the brink of civil war and now with
the fundamentalists involved that can push the country into the
The SNC recently elected Kurdish activist Abdelbasset Seida
to head the group. He has said his priority would be to expand
the council and hold talks with other opposition figures to
include them in the council, which some have accused of being
dominated by Islamists.