World Bulletin / News Desk
Members of Syria's internal opposition held a rare meeting in Damascus on Sunday to call for a peaceful end to President Bashar al-Assad's rule, after months of fighting in which thousands have been killed.
The meeting went ahead with the blessing of authorities despite the arrest of several opposition figures in recent days and accusations from rebel forces that it gave a false signal that Assad is seeking a political solution to Syria's crisis.
Rajaa Nasser, one of the organisers of the Syria Salvation Conference, called for "an immediate halt to the shooting, a halt to the brutal and barbaric shelling, a truce and a pause for the fighters."
Such a truce could "open the way for a political process ... which guarantees a radical political change, an end to the current regime and a serious and genuine democracy," Nasser told the meeting organised by the internal opposition's main umbrella group, the National Coordination Body.
Activists say 27,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad erupted in March last year, most of them in the last few months as the uprising turned into a violent insurgency.
"The main goal now is to put an immediate end to the violence in Syria, whether from the government side or the armed groups," Russia's ambassador Azamat Kulmukhametov said.
"The other goal is no less important, to convert the current confrontation ... into a peaceful political solution."
Assad has vowed to crush rebel fighters, who he portrays as foreign-backed terrorists, but says he accepts some opposition figures who call for a peaceful transition from a one-party state to democracy. His allies have pointed to the internal opposition as a sign Assad is serious about reform.
Members of the internal opposition, which includes outspoken critics of Assad who have spent years in jail, said Moscow and Beijing promised to exert influence to protect Sunday's meeting.
But eight members of the National Coordination Body were detained by Syrian security forces last week, including three who were seized outside Damascus airport after they returned from a trip to China, the group's spokesman said.
The internal opposition has been accused of being too passive by rebel fighters and members of the largely foreign-based Syrian National Council, a political group calling for the international community to arm rebel factions.
"This is not a real opposition in Syria. This opposition is just the other face of the same coin," a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army said.
"It is just a silly plot to mislead the international community to think there is a negotiation in place. They cannot be successful in finding an end to the civil war."
'l could not in any way express how high the stakes are in the next hours and days,' head of UN humanitarian efforts says
'It's no secret that the Syrian army has prepared this decisive battle with its allies. It will not take long to begin, nor to finish,' a pro-regime daily says
The new amendments allow the king to choose his successor, the judiciary's chief and the head of the constitutional council
'The Syrian cessation of hostilities is in great danger and could collapse at any time,' says UN envoy on Syria
US Col. Warren hopes opposition will retake towns within weeks
Death toll is expected to rise further, civil defense official in Aleppo says
Among 76 people sentenced is deceased senior Muslim Brotherhood leader Farid Ismail who died in May 2015
Opposition High Negotiations Committee requests extraordinary meeting in light of mounting violations by Assad regime
Discussions between the two monarchs are expected to tackle recent regional developments and means of bolstering bilateral relations
Yemeni army faces losses as they advance in Mukalla province
'On paper they say that foreign banks can do business with Iran but, in practice, they are fomenting Iranophobia to prevent relations,' Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says
Russia has submitted to the UN Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee a request to add two organisations: Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham to the blacklist
Geneva-based Committee for Justice says 423 protesters detained during Monday’s rallies
Pentagon ties decrease to acceleration in anti-ISIL campaign
The two diplomats call on Tehran to adopt regional policies based on ‘non-interference’ in other countries’ affairs
At panel on Syrian crisis, Khaled Khoja speaks on how Iran and Russia became major players in the crisis