Syria's main opposition coalition has held an unscheduled fourth day of meetings in Istanbul (Turkey) as internal disputes prevent it from deciding whether to join a U.S. and Russian-backed peace conference with Damascus.
Syrian National Coalition members on Sunday said the main dispute concerns whether to grant Saudi Arabia a bigger role in the group, by expanding its membership to include Saudi-backed opposition figures such as veteran dissident Michel Kilo. They said the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood faction of the coalition is resisting such an expansion.
Qatar has exerted a greater influence over the Syrian opposition coalition to date, by acting as a chief contributor of money and weapons to rebels fighting a two-year rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian opposition sources said that if the coalition can agree on an expanded membership, it also must decide the fate of its prime minister Ghassan Hitto, who has not been able to form a provisional government for Syria. They said resolving the leadership and membership issues would allow the coalition to respond formally to the U.S. and Russian plan for a Syrian peace conference in Geneva next month.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Sunday his government has agreed "in principle" to attend the proposed conference, calling it "a good opportunity to resolve the Syrian crisis."
Washington and Moscow have said they want the Assad government and the opposition to negotiate the formation of a transitional government that would lead Syria out of its civil war, which has killed more than 80,000 people.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Paris Monday to discuss how to move forward with the peace conference.
Syrian government forces have been fighting to recapture the strategic rebel town of Qusair in recent days in an apparent bid to strengthen Mr. Assad's position ahead of peace talks.
An amateur video posted to the Internet Sunday showed a purported Syrian government air strike on Qusair. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting in Qusair killed at least 27 rebels and three civilians on Saturday.
Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah militants have unleashed heavy artillery and tank fire on the Sunni Muslim town near the Lebanese border. Qusair's capture would mark a significant victory for Mr. Assad because it is located along a highway linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, a stronghold of his minority Alawite sect.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.