Rebel Free Syrian army confirms new chief

BEIRUT (AFP) - The rebel Free Syrian Army has confirmed the appointment of its new chief, Brigadier General Abdel Ilah al-Bashir, after former head General Selim Idriss had initially refused to step down.

The FSA confirmed "the dismissal of Idriss and the appointment of... Bashir as head of the Supreme Military Council," in a statement late on Friday.

Bashir, who defected from the government army to join rebels fighting in southern Syria, had originally been appointed to head the FSA in mid-February.

But Idriss and several senior commanders in the field rejected his dismissal, with some branding it as an undemocratic "coup".

The FSA's Higher Military Council removed Idriss from his position in February, citing the "difficulties faced by the Syrian revolution" in its battle with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Idriss and his allies had blamed the opposition's defence minister Assaad Mustafa for his removal.

But earlier this week, opposition chief Ahmad Jarba had met with several top military leaders, including Idriss and Mustafa.

During the meeting it was agreed both Idriss and Mustafa would quit their positions and Idriss would be named military advisor to Jarba.

Considered the "moderate" rebel group, the Western-backed FSA was once the country's strongest armed opposition force but is now increasingly marginalised by Islamists.