World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkey and Arab states urged Syria's divided opposition on Monday to unite and form a credible alternative to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but rifts swiftly emerged at talks in Cairo.
The unity calls were made at the opening of a two-day meeting organised by the Arab League to try to rally Syria's opposition, which has been beset by in-fighting that diplomats say have made it tougher for the world to respond to the crisis.
Sixteen months into an uprising against Assad, squabbling among the opposition makes it less likely to be able to win international recognition or to get more than half-hearted foreign support.
"It is not acceptable to waste this opportunity in any way. The sacrifices of the Syrian people are bigger than us all and more precious than any differences or individual and party interests," Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said, addressing the roughly 200 Syrian politicians and activists.
Diplomats and officials at the talks, which are being boycotted by the Free Syrian Army which is leading the armed struggle against Assad's forces, said they did not expect a major agreement to emerge but hoped for some progress.
"We don't expect the opposition will unite today after what we have seen in past meetings, they are always fighting behind closed doors," said one League source. "But there is always a chance that things could change for the better."
Even as the talks got under way, divisions appeared between Islamists and secularists as well as between those inside Syria and other opposition figures based abroad.
Syrian Islamists said they objected to those calling for a complete separation between state and religion in a new Syria. Others said any agreements reached in Cairo would not necessarily hold sway inside Syria.
International powers, also divided on how to react, agreed at a meeting in Geneva on Saturday that a transitional government should be set up in Syria, but left open the question of whether Assad might play a role in that process.
Syrian opposition figures in Cairo said they would not discuss forming a government-in-exile at the talks but would work on a single vision. Arab diplomats and officials said they had low expectations, but hoped some gaps could be bridged.
The foreign minister of Turkey, which has turned against Assad, delivered some of the strongest criticism of Syria's government but also urged the opposition to rally together.
"The Assad regime's guns, tanks and weapons have no meaning in the face of the will of the Syrian people. Sooner or later the will of the Syrian people shall reign supreme," Ahmet Davutoglu said in his address to the Syrian opposition.
"There surely will be different points of view among yourselves, this is totally normal, but the cause is one," he said. "The expectation of the Syrian people from you is to deliver a strong message of unity."
The talks included about 10 groups, including the leading Syrian National Council (SNC) which has itself faced splits in its ranks, plus other activists and Syrian individuals.
The attendees ranged from secularists to Islamists, and differences in their views appeared early in the two-day talks.
"On the top item of the document that we are all supposed to sign and agree to, there is an item asking for the full separation between religion and state, which we don't agree to," said Khedr Al Sotari of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.
Adib Shishakly, a member of the SNC, said one of the biggest challenges was bridging the gap between Syrians in exile and those on the ground protesting against Assad.
"The main problem we are facing is the division between the opposition groups inside and outside Syria, which is a crucial matter because those inside Syria will have to play a big role in any institutional set up," he said.
Walid al-Bunni, a doctor jailed for years in Syria for his activism before fleeing last year, said the meeting aimed to form a coordinating committee that would not lead the opposition but would implement group decisions and be a face for the world.
Some said they would oppose giving such a committee a big role. "We are against this proposed follow-up committee having powers to execute decisions," said Nouri al-Jarrah, head of a Syrian writers group.
One Arab League diplomat said the Syrian opposition's failure to unite strengthened Assad's position and made it more difficult for the world to respond, contrasting the way opponents of deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi had closed ranks.
"They completely lack unity, unlike the Libyan National Council which was organised and on the ground enabling us to support it more," the diplomat said. "The Syrian opposition is distant from the people and unorganised."
"The borders have been closed for traffic temporarily.. It's a precautionary move.. due to the violent events on the other side," the interior ministry said.
"Now is the time for the international community to insist on a better deal," he said in a televised statement in English.
The air strike hit Zintan, whose forces have sided with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni's government against the rival administration set up by forces who took over Tripoli in the summer during factional fighting in Libya.
With talks to cinch a deal on the horizon according to Iran, France says there is not enough to go ahead for a deal just yet
Abdollahian and Ban spoke on the sidelines of an international conference in Kuwait aimed at addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, IRNA reported.
United Nations experts reported to the U.N. Security Council, thousands of people from some 100 countries in Syria and Iraq, there were also 6,500 in Afghanistan and hundreds more in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia.
The operation by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim states is aimed at stopping the Houthis and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh winning control of the country and at reinstating Saudi-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement, nuclear talks to merit staying until Wednesday.
The negotiators ended talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne in the early hours of Wednesday and said they would reconvene later in the day, with Iran and Russia expressing optimism that an initial agreement was within reach.
The Mazraq camp for displaced people near Haradh was struck on Monday, humanitarian workers said. Some 200 people were wounded, dozens of them seriously, the International Organization for Migration said.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Tuesday pledged $500 million in humanitarian aid to help ease the crisis in Syria.
Syrian state television put the number killed at 44 and said 21 others had been wounded in the attack on Mabouja, a 60-km (40 mile) drive east of Hama. A Syrian military source said the army had repelled the assault on Tuesday.
A strike early on Tuesday near Sanaa airport blew a large crater in a group of five houses, witnesses said. There were no casualties, suggesting the buildings had been empty since a deadly raid in the same area last week.
Aiming to seal preliminary deal by Tuesday midnight with diplomats fear opportunity will be lost if no deal today
Explosions and heavy gunfire was heard in the Shida and al-Hisama districts of Saada province and near the town of Haradh in neighbouring Hajja province.
fState TV says tons of food and medical supplies have been airlifted to Shiite militant group.