AMMAN Syrian government defectors and opposition figures formed a body on Saturday that would step in to prevent the collapse of state institutions if President Bashar al-Assad is overthrown.
The Free National Gathering was formed largely by members and supporters of Syria's opposition coalition, which was recognized this week by 114 countries as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
Among them are several high-level defectors such as former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab who are concerned that, were Assad to fall, his opponents would turn upon government employees who did not take part in the country's 21-month uprising, causing the disintegration of the state.
Hijab, the highest level official to desert Assad so far, was chosen to head a seven-member executive council that will manage the Free National Gathering for now, organizers said.
"This is to protect state institutions in the event of the fall of the regime and to prepare for this from now," said former deputy oil minister Abdo Husameddin, who defected in March.
"There will be contacts with officials to ensure state institutions are protected," said Husameddin. "We want to bring down the regime but we do not want the collapse of the state or its institutions and the workforce employed."
He said there were at least 1.5 million people employed in Syrian state bodies and enterprises.
Assad's opponents have struggled to form a united front to end his family's 42-year rule, mirroring Syria's conflicting sectarian and ideological allegiances.
But countries including the United States and the 27 states of the European Union rallied round the coalition at a Friends of Syria conference in Morocco this week, signaling that more than four decades of Assad family rule over Syria might be nearing an end.
With fighting raging in the capital not far from Assad's palace and rebels rapidly gaining ground across the country, opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said a negotiated exit for Assad may still be possible.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)