DOHA, Qatar -- Syrian opposition factions signed a tentative agreement on Sunday to create a unified umbrella organization that could pave the way for long-elusive international diplomatic recognition, as well as more financing and improved military aid from foreign capitals.
Roughly 60 opposition negotiators reached agreement after three days of haggling at a luxury hotel here, creating the new coalition and electing Sheik Maath al-Khatib, the imam of the historic Ummayad mosque in Damascus who had to flee the country, to be its first president.
"Today in Doha is the first time the different factions of the Syrian opposition are united in one body," said Riad Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister and the highest level defector from the Damascus government. "So we ask the international community to recognize the Syrian opposition as the representative of the Syrians."
The umbrella organization was designed to subsume the Syrian National Council, a previous attempt at unification that has appeared increasingly marginalized as Syria has descended into civil war. That group's authority was undercut when it failed to attract sufficient support from key minorities, religious and tribal figures, businessmen -- and most important, rebel units conducting the fighting against President Bashar Assad's forces.
The hope among Western countries is that the new coalition, somewhat clumsily called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition
An important change in the new agreement was that revolutionary councils from 14 Syrian provinces now each have a representative, though not all live in Syria. The hope is that will bind the coalition to those inside.
In addition, perhaps the most important body the new group is expected to form is the Revolutionary Military Council, to oversee the splintered fighting organizations and to funnel both lethal and nonlethal military aid to the rebels. It should unite units of the Free Syrian Army, various militias and brigades in each city and large groups of defectors.
Before the ink was even dry on the final draft, negotiators were hoping that it would bring them the anti-aircraft missiles they crave to take on Syria's lethal air force. Both the U.S. and Britain have offered only nonmilitary aid to the uprising.
Foreign leaders -- notably including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton -- urged this unification largely so they could coordinate their own efforts and aid through a group of technocrats. Once it receives international recognition, the coalition is supposed to establish a temporary government.
Given the level of distrust and ancient feuds among members of the Syrian opposition, there was no guarantee the agreement would hold. But the fact that the death toll has reached almost 200 Syrians a day was a key factor.
"The people meeting here and serving the revolution with negotiations should go inside and bow to the people serving the revolution with their blood," said Adnan Rahmoun, a fighter with the Free Syrian Army who slipped out of Idlib to attend the meeting. The agreement "meets the aspirations of the Syrian people," he said.
But not all activists were convinced.
"Even the Baath Party itself is great when you read its program," said Omar Badran, an activist from northern Syria, referring to Syria's ruling party. "But then you come to the application of it and the reality of it, that's what matters."