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As Civil War Continues, Syrian Divided Opposition Seeks Unity at Doha Talks

Explosive device goes off near UN hotel in Syrian capital

DAMASCUS, Nov. 4, 2012 (Xinhua) --

An explosive device on Sunday ripped through a garage in front of Dama Rose hotel in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where a UN political office is housed, witnesses told Xinhua.

The blast was so powerful that it shattered some windows of the heavily-fortified hotel, a witness said, adding that some people in the vicinity were injured by the explosion.

The blast is the latest one of an endless series of explosions that hit Syria during the 20-month bloody unrest.

Syria's state-run media outlets reported the blast but fell short of giving any details.

Rebels fight Syrian troops over airbase

Arab News, 4 November 2012 10:51 am

Syrian rebels launched a dawn assault Saturday on a strategic airbase in the north of the country, trying to disrupt strikes by warplanes and helicopters that pound rebel-held towns and give the regime of President Bashar Assad a major edge in the civil war.

The assault, reported by activists, comes a day before the start of a key international conference in Qatar at which the United States and its allies aim to reorganize the opposition’s political leadership and unite their ranks. The leadership-in-exile has been widely seen as ineffective and out of touch with rebel fighters on the ground.

Rebels forces attacked the Taftanaz airbase early Saturday morning in fighting with government forces that continued into the afternoon, the anti-regime activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Joining Syrian rebels in the attack were fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic militant group made up of foreign jihadis, according to the Observatory. Al-Nusra fighters, who are considered among the most experienced and disciplined among the opposition forces, have led attacks on other airbases in the north in past months.

The Taftanaz base mainly houses military helicopters, near the main highway between the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, where rebels and the military have been battling for control for months.

Online activist videos said the show the battle showed rebels firing rockets and smoking rising over buildings and a airstrip. An activist speaking in the video identifies it as an attack by rebels and Jabhat Al-Nusra on the base.

The videos appear genuine and are consistent with other Associated Press reporting in the area.
Airstrikes have been one of the most effective and feared weapons of the regime in the civil war. Rebels managed to seize control of a pocket of territory around Aleppo, but government warplanes and helicopters continue to blast rebel-held towns from the air. In the fierce fighting over Aleppo itself, warplanes almost daily swoop in to strafe or bomb rebel-held neighborhoods.
Activists say more than 36,000 people have been killed during Syria’s 19-month-old conflict, which began in March last year as a largely peaceful uprising but has transformed into a brutal civil war.

Several attempts for a truce in the fighting have failed, including the UN-supported four-day cease-fire that was meant to coincide with a major Muslim holiday last week, leaving the international community at a loss for ways to end the war.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday called for a major leadership overhaul and suggested Washington would handpick more representative leaders, including those fighting the regime. The opposition conference the Qatari capital, Doha, starts on Sunday.

Syria's divided opposition seeks unity at Doha talks

State TV reported a blast near the Dama Rose hotel in central Damascus on Sunday as Syria's fragmented opposition gathered in Doha for unity talks aimed at luring international support for its bid to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

By News Wires (text)

France 24, November 4, 2012 (AFP)

The opposition Syrian National Council begins a four-day meeting Sunday in Doha, where the United States will reportedly press for an overhaul of the coalition aiming to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Details have emerged of plans to reshape the opposition into a representative government-in-exile, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charged that the SNC was not representative.

Washington is pressing for a makeover of the opposition, with long-time dissident Riad Seif reportedly touted as the potential head of a new government-in-exile dubbed the Syrian National Initiative.

Seif and about two dozen other leading opposition figures gathered in Amman on Thursday and came up with proposals for a new body to represent the disparate groups opposing Assad.

Among those in attendance were some SNC members, former premier Riad Hijab, who defected in August; Ali Sadreddin Bayanuni of the Muslim Brotherhood and Kurdish and tribal representatives, participants said.

Participants sought to quell concerns the overhaul is aimed at building an opposition that would be willing to negotiate with Assad.

"Assad and his entourage leaving power is a non-negotiable precondition for any dialogue aimed at finding a non-military solution, if that is still possible," they said in a statement.

The Amman meeting also supported "efforts underway to put in place a unified political body for the whole of the opposition," according to the statement.

Hijab's spokesman, Mohammed al-Otri, said the group was proposing "the creation of a new political organ of the opposition, representing all of its components."

He said the new body would include the 14 members of the SNC executive, three members of the Kurdish National Council, representatives of on-the-ground activists and fighters, longstanding dissidents and religious leaders.

"It remains to be decided whether this body will replace the SNC or will constitute a new coalition," Otri said, adding that the creation of the group "will certainly lead to the formation of a government" in exile.

In a separate statement, Bayanuni underlined the Brotherhood's support for "the idea of a political leadership to bring together the opposition" including the SNC.

But he said the Brotherhood supported maintaining the SNC, in which it holds significant influence, and "not replacing it with a new body."

The SNC lashed out on Friday at alleged US interference with the opposition, accusing Washington of undermining the revolt and "sowing the seeds of division" by seeking the overhaul.

Clinton has voiced frustration with the SNC, saying the exiled group was not representative of on-the-ground opposition forces and that it "can no longer be viewed as the visible leader of the opposition."

Washington later denied it was trying to dictate to the opposition, insisting it was simply seeking to ensure that more voices were heard.

While rebel fighters have been on the offensive on the ground, especially in northern Syria, the SNC has been on the defensive over a video posted on the Internet that appears to show opposition fighters beating and executing soldiers.

The SNC called for those responsible to be held accountable.

The meeting in Qatar, a key backer of the revolt in Syria, was originally due to take place on October 17 but postponed because of what an SNC official said was a flood of requests to join the group.

However, other SNC sources said the delay reflected deep internal tensions.

The SNC has emerged as the interlocutor of the international community since its creation around six months after the March 2011 start of the uprising which monitors say has cost more than 36,000 lives.

But divisions have dogged opposition ranks. Some groups -- unlike the SNC -- staunchly oppose foreign intervention and violent regime change.

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