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."
Addressing thousands of supporters who waved Iranian flags and held pictures of their candidate, he blamed Rouhani and foreign powers for Iran's economic woes.
Abbas’s visit comes days before he travels to Washington for talks with Trump
Al-Qaeda militants attack a security checkpoint in Lahij province
Syria withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 following PM Hariri's assassination
Worshippers released yellow and white balloons with Francis, flanked by security, circling the Cairo stadium on a golf cart and waving to the crowds as a chorus sang a joyous hymn.
Regime warplanes target Idlib, rebel-held Damascus, according to local civil defense sources
Pope’s visit coincides with 70th anniversary of launch of diplomatic relations between Egypt, Vatican
Decision follows Agramunt's March visit to Syria, and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad
Recently-appointed governor of southern Abyan province comes under fire while en route to Aden
Syrian Democratic Forces largely made up of PKK/PYD members, security officials say
The 80-year-old pontiff is due in Cairo around 1400 (1200 GMT) and his 27 hours on Egyptian soil will include a meeting with the grand imam of the Al-Azhar mosque, sealing a recent improvement in relations between Catholicism and the Sunni branch of Islam.
The GCC was formed in the wake of Iran's 1979 revolution and includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
Russia's military said a day after the attack that Syria's air defences would be boosted.
Ayman Nour was a candidate in the 2005 presidential election
Israel has not confirmed or denied an attack on Damascus early on Thursday morning
Houthis, allies yet to comment on reported air attack in southwestern Taiz province