Britain urges Syrian rebels to join forces against Assad

 

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The Independent Online

Britain's government has urged Syria's opposition groups to form policies that would unite them in their bitter struggle against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Amid reports of disunity and sectarian strife inside the country, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, advised opposition figures to protect the rights of minorities and form a set of democratic values to ensure that they are a viable alternative administration. The leaders of the rebels, most of whom are in exile, were also encouraged to establish links with activists inside the country to co-ordinate efforts.

Britain launched official talks with the opposition at the end of last week, with the former British ambassador to Lebanon Frances Guy appointed as the Government's emissary. But diplomats have warned against drawing too close a parallel with Libya, where rebels organised themselves to form the National Transitional Council and controlled swaths of territory before gaining international recognition.

Mr Hague said he hoped further international pressure would be exerted on the "appalling and unacceptable" government in Damascus. Removing the regime remained "the best thing for Syria", he said.

Speaking after his meeting with the Syrian delegation, Mr Hague stressed "the importance of retaining international support in this situation through non-violent protest".

But the eight-month confrontation between the Assad regime and the opposition has become increasingly incendiary, with an estimated 3,500 people killed so far and escalating armed action by rebel groups in the country.

There have also been reports of the rebellion turning into religious strife with kidnappings and murders among rival militia groups. In the city of Homs, fighters from the Sunni and Alawite communities, from which the regime's leadership is drawn, are said to be involved in a savage feud.

Ausama Monajed, a member of the Syrian National Council, sought to reassure the British government that a post-Assad Syria would be "a full parliamentary democracy".

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warned Assad yesterday: "You can only continue with tanks and guns to a certain point – the day will come when you will go." His warning came as Syrian soldiers opened fire on at least two buses carrying Turkish citizens. The attacks, which wounded two people, appeared to be retaliation for Turkey's mounting criticism of Assad.

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