DOHA, Qatar — Syria’s splintered opposition factions began talks on Sunday to forge a common front for their war against the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
It was the first concerted attempt to meld opposition groups based outside of Syria and align them with rebels fighting in the country to help end a 19-month conflict that has left an estimated 32,000 people dead.
Tensions between Islamists and secularists as well as between those inside Syria and opposition figures based abroad have thwarted prior attempts to forge a united opposition.
Sunni-dominated Qatar along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey are backing the mainly Sunni rebels, while Shiite Iran supports Assad.
The talks in Qatar are intended to win greater international support for the rebels and crucial weapons supplies.
One aim is to broaden the Syrian National Council, the largest of the overseas-based opposition groups, to 400 members from about 300.
Opposition leaders hoped this would pave the way to a follow-up meeting on Thursday bringing in other opposition factions with the goal of creating an anti-Assad coalition and ending months of political and personal infighting.
The United States called last week for an overhaul of the opposition’s leadership, saying it was time to move beyond the council and bring in those “in the front lines fighting and dying.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the meeting in Qatar would be an opportunity to establish a credible opposition.
In Syria, rebels firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades captured an oilfield in the country’s east on Sunday after three days of fighting with government troops protecting the facility, activists said.
The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said rebels overran the Al-Ward oilfield in the province of Deir el-Zour near the border with Iraq early Sunday.
About 40 soldiers were guarding the facility that the rebels had been pounding for the past three days, he said, adding that opposition fighters captured several regime troops.