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Syrian Opposition in Key Qatar Meeting to Unify Ranks

  • VOA News

Smoke rises after a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles at Deraa November 4, 2012.

Smoke rises after a Syrian Air Force fighter jet loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad fired missiles at Deraa November 4, 2012.

Syria's fractured opposition factions began key talks aimed at forming a united front to gain international recognition and bolster their chances to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

The first four days of meetings in the Qatari capital, Doha, are focused on transforming the Syrian National Council, the largest opposition group outside Syria, into a representative government-in-exile. SNC leaders said the group is expected to expand from about 200 members to 400.

A separate meeting of the wider opposition movement in Doha aims to form a united coalition that includes rebel fighters and others inside Syria.

Influential opposition figure Riad Seif has proposed a structure that blends the rebel Free Syrian Army, regional military councils and other insurgent units alongside civilian bodies and prominent opposition figures.

A Western diplomat said Seif's initiative is "supported by the United States, Britain, France and possibly by some Arab countries, Qatar and Turkey."

The exile-dominated SNC would receive only 15 seats of about 50 in Seif's proposed new united assembly. SNC chief Abdelbaset Sieda said his group would demand a 40 percent share of any new leadership body.

Meanwhile, in Syria, state television said a car bomb near a major hotel in the capital, Damascus, wounded 11 civilians. The Syrian conflict is entering its 20th month and has caused the deaths of an estimated 36,000 people.

Also Sunday, activists said rebels captured one of the country's major oilfields in eastern Deir Ezzor province, following three days of fierce fighting with government troops protecting the facility. The al-Ward oilfield is near the border with Iraq.

Oil was a major source of revenue for Mr. Assad's government before the European Union and the United States imposed an embargo on Syria's crude exports last year to punish the country's leadership for brutally cracking down on protesters early on in the uprising.

Activists also said rebels shot down a fighter jet near the oil field.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande went to Beirut for talks with his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Suleiman, to show support for the country amid ongoing violence in neighboring Syria.

That violence has spilled into Lebanon and has been growing worse in recent months. Two weeks ago, a Beirut car bombing killed a top Lebanese intelligence official. Lebanon's opposition blames Syria for the attack and wants Lebanon's prime minister to resign, accusing his government of complicity with Damascus.