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Syria opposition strikes unity deal

Parties rule out any dialogue with regime

The Syrian opposition struck a hard-won deal yesterday on a new structure to combat President Bashar al-Assad.

Participants in marathon talks in Qatar said the latest were centred on details of a planned new government-in-waiting, but that the Syrian National Council had now heeded Arab and Western calls to join a new, wider coalition.

Reservations in SNC ranks about what many members saw as a move to sideline it had prompted repeated delays in the Doha talks and mounting frustration among other dissident groups and the opposition’s Arab and Western supporters.

But after negotiations that ran into the early hours of yesterday and resumed in the afternoon, opposition officials said a deal on forming a National Coalition of opposition forces had finally been done.

“We signed a 12-point agreement to establish a coalition,” said leading dissident Riad Seif, who drew up the US-backed reform proposals on which yesterday’s agreement was based.

In a copy of the document obtained by AFP, the parties “agree to work for the fall of the regime and of all its symbols and pillars,” and rule out any dialogue with the regime.

They agree to unify the fighting forces under a supreme military council and to set up a national judicial commission for rebel-held areas.

A provisional government would be formed after the coalition gains international recognition, and a transitional government formed after the regime has fallen.

The deal came after the SNC, which had formerly been seen as the main representative of the opposition, heeded Arab and Western pressure to agree to a new structure embracing groups that had been unwilling to join its ranks.

Former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who fled to neighbouring Jordan in August in the highest-ranking defection from Assad’s government, hailed the agreement as “an advanced step towards toppling the regime.”

There had been mounting diplomatic pressure on the opposition for an overhaul amid US-led accusations the SNC had lost touch with civilian activists and rebels inside Syria and become little more than a talking shop for exiles.

International concern had been further raised by fears of a spillover of the conflict as fighting raged on Syria’s borders with Iraq and Turkey as well as on the armistice line with the Israeli-occupied Golan.

The Israeli army said a mortar round fired from the Syrian side had hit one of its positions on the Golan, prompting the riposte from its troops.

Fighting also flared on the Turkish border as Syriantroops and rebels battled for the town of Ras al-Ain, where thousands of refugees have fled into Turkey in recent days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Ras al-Ain is one of just two Turkish border crossings still controlled by the Syrian army.

Rebels fighting to bring down Assad have captured four others while a seventh is controlled by Kurdish militia.

On Saturday, 121 people were killed in violence, the Observatory said, among more than 37,000 who have lost their lives since the uprising erupted in March last year.

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