Raids, blasts in Damascus as Syria opposition meets


Mon, Nov 05, 2012 - Page 1

Syrian warplanes hit targets around Damascus and a blast shook the heart of the capital yesterday, state media and a watchdog said, as the main opposition gathered in Qatar under US pressure for a makeover.

Security forces fanned out across northwestern parts of Damascus and roads were cut after fierce battles at dawn between rebels and troops near a political intelligence office, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

As the fighting raged, warplanes carried out three raids on the Ghuta region that lies about 50km northeast of the capital, the Britain-based watchdog said.

Meanwhile, state media reported that a blast shook the area near the Dama Rose Hotel in the heart of Damascus yesterday morning, wounding seven civilians. It blamed the explosion on “terrorists” — the Syrian regime’s term for armed rebels.

The area is close to several security centers and Syrian military headquarters.

The fresh fighting comes a day after 194 people were killed in bombings, shellings and clashes across the country, according to an Observatory toll.

The escalating conflict and ever-rising death toll added urgency to a meeting of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) in the Qatari capital, Doha, with the US reportedly pressing for a new umbrella organization to unite the country’s fractured regime opponents.

The SNC began the four-day meeting yesterday.

Details have emerged of plans to reshape the opposition into a representative government-in-exile, after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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, Jordan, on Thursday and came up with proposals for a new body to represent the disparate groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Among those in attendance were some SNC members, former Syrian prime minister 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 al-Assad.

“Al-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.”