January 13, 2012 / 5:38 PM / 6 years ago

Syria opposition, rebels agree to tighten links

BEIRUT, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The main opposition Syrian National Council and the rebel Free Syrian Army have agreed to reorganise the loosely-structured units fighting under the FSA umbrella against President Bashar al-Assad's security forces, a council statement said on Friday.

As part of an agreement to deepen ties with the armed rebels, the council also said a "direct channel of communication" would be opened with the FSA rebels.

Army deserters and gunmen have stepped up attacks in recent weeks against Assad's forces, including ambushes on military convoys and bases, killing scores of soldiers.

SNC leader Burhan Ghalioun has said rebel attacks could push Syria towards civil war, but his comments have made little impact on rebel fighters who operate largely independently of their nominal leadership, based across the border in Turkey.

"The parties agreed to formulate a detailed plan, to include the reorganisation of FSA units and brigades," as well as making room for more senior army deserters to join their ranks, the statement said.

The statement, which followed a meeting on Thursday between Ghalioun and Free Syrian Army leader Colonel Riad al-Asaad, gave few details about how the rebel forces might be structured.

But it said the rebel leaders would be briefed "on the political situation and on regional and international positions", to improve coordination with the council.

"The council is moving towards not only (deepening) the relationship with the Free Army, but also to help it re-organise its military issues," said Ghalioun's adviser Ausama Monajed.

Monajed refused to give more details on the deal.

The most senior commander to desert Assad's army, General Mostafa al-Sheikh, told Reuters this week that he had started helping reorganise the FSA.

"The Free Syrian Army needs to remain under control for fear that the regime may suddenly collapse," said Sheikh, who fled to Turkey earlier this month.

Asaad, who was named as FSA leader last year, is seen as largely a figurehead for the rebels. Analysts say he appears to have exercised little direct control over the fighters who operate in localised groups scattered around the country. (Reporting by Mariam Karouny, Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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