BEIRUT (AP) — The exiled leader of Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood denied Monday widespread accusations by other pro-rebel political factions that the group is seeking to impose its will on other members of the opposition.
The rare news conference by Mohamamad Riad al-Shaqfa highlights the suspicions that his movement has raised in an already fractured opposition. The group has a powerful donor network among members in exile and supporters in oil-rich Gulf countries, especially Qatar. Many in the opposition say the group uses its support and money as key levers for influence.
"Our aim is not to tear apart but to unite the (Syrian) opposition," al-Shaqfa said at the news conference in Istanbul, where he is based. He blamed accusations against his group on "lies and fabrications" that he said were spread by the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Some rebels say that the Brotherhood is trying to control the uprising through exiled political groups like the Syrian National Coalition umbrella bloc, marginalizing fighters inside the country from non-Islamist groups. They say the movement is positioning itself to take power once the war against Assad is won.
Tensions within the opposition rose last month with the election of Ghassan Hitto, a little known figure, as interim prime minister for the opposition. Some of his critics claimed the Muslim Brotherhood was behind his election.
Among those who regularly attack the Brotherhood are veteran secular dissidents such as Kamal Labwani, who accuses the group of using money to build allegiances on the ground in Syria. He and about a dozen other members of the coalition suspended their membership a day after it elected Hitto, complaining of the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the council.
"We say with all honesty that we didn’t know Ghassan Hitto before he was nominated for the post," al-Shaqfa said.
Al-Shaqfa also denied that the Muslim Brotherhood is positioning itself to grab power should Assad’s regime fall.
"These are all lies, slanderous statements against the Muslim Brotherhood," he said. "We are not after any gains and we do not seek power. We await the fall of this regime so that the people can practice their role in choosing their own leaders," al-Shaqfa added.
His comments came as Syrian activists reported that government warplanes carried out more airstrikes around the country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Assad’s aircraft hit targets in rebel-held areas near the capital Damascus, in the northern city of Aleppo, and in Homs in central Syria.
Jets on Monday also bombed the city of Raqqa in the province by the same name along the Euphrates River. Rebels captured Raqqa city last month, making it the first city entirely controlled by rebels since the conflict began more than two years ago.
There were no immediate reports of casualties in Monday’s airstrikes.
Syria’s uprising began in March 2011 and has since turned into a civil war in which over 70,000 people have been killed, according to the U.N.