Syria’s opposition begins unity talks

Hope is to forge common front herey


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.