(Updates with comments from Iranian official starting in 14th paragraph.)
Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Syrian opposition leaders sought international support for their new coalition as human-rights activists said the death toll in the seven-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad rose to 4,000.
Members of the opposition Syrian National Council formed on Oct. 2 traveled at the weekend to Egypt and Sweden to seek recognition as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people, Faruk Tayfur, the body’s deputy chairman, told Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency. The group, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, aims to coordinate the struggle to end Assad’s 11-year rule.
Syria’s opposition is trying to follow the path taken by Libya’s rebels who formed a transitional council that became the main governing authority in the North African country in late August after they seized Tripoli, the capital, and ended Muammar Qaddafi’s four-decade rule.
The Syrian council probably won’t succeed because its members “don’t seem to be united, and the component of Islamists in the group is too large,” Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said by phone today.
Syrian security forces killed at least 20 anti-government protesters yesterday in the suburbs of the capital, Damascus, as well as the central governorates of Homs and Hama, the port city of Latakia and the northern area of Qamishli, home to the country’s Kurdish minority, Qurabi said. That brought the total to 4,000, he said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem said yesterday his government would retaliate with “severe” measures if any country formally recognized the opposition umbrella group.
The European Union today welcomed the formation of the Syrian National Council, calling it a “positive step forward,” according to a statement by EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg.
Syria’s warning is “a preemptive move to try and keep the Arab states away from recognizing the organization,” said Chris Phillips, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London. European leaders “are wary of recognizing a political organization that at the moment doesn’t have much chance of replacing the regime.”
About 80 council members led by Burhan Ghalioun, a political sociologist at the Sorbonne University in Paris, met Oct. 8 in Stockholm, Anatolia reported. Ghalioun said the opposition wanted to use peaceful means to remove Assad from power and urged the international community to help protect Syrian civilians, Anatolia reported.
Ghalioun also criticized Russia, saying its “acceptance of, and even support to, the Syrian regime’s administration of violence to the Syrian people is a scandal,” according to Anatolia.
Russia and China vetoed a United Nations resolution backed by the U.S. and European nations on Oct. 4 that threatened sanctions against Syria.
Russia, which has multibillion-dollar arms contracts and a naval base in Soviet-era ally Syria, has vowed to block any UN resolution that could be used as a cover for seeking regime change after the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly criticized Assad’s crackdown, said Oct. 5 that his government will enact its own sanctions against Syria after the failure of UN measures.
Al-Muallem told a press conference in Damascus yesterday that Syria would retaliate against any Turkish moves.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, accused the U.S. of planning a military operation in Syria as part of an effort to remove opponents of its policy in the Middle East.
“There is a conspiracy being plotted by the U.S and its allies to crush resistance in this region,” Mehmanparast, told reporters in Moscow today, without giving details. “They are seeking to wage a military campaign in Syria.”
Assad, who faces U.S. and European pressure to step down, is a key regional ally for Iran. The two countries support the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, whose military arm fought a monthlong war against Israel in 2006.
Syria’s top cleric, Ahmad Hassoun, said that supporters of Syria and Lebanon would carry out suicide attacks in the U.S., Europe and Israel if Syria was attacked, according to footage broadcast on Al Arabiya television.
--With assistance from Emre Peker in Ankara, James Neuger in Brussels and Henry Meyer in Moscow. Editors: Karl Maier, Ben Holland, Heather Langan, Louis Meixler.
To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.