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Talks On Syrian Opposition Unity Begin In Istanbul

Reconciliation talks aimed at uniting the divided Syrian Opposition began in the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul on Tuesday so as to prove that it could provide an effective and viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad who continues to put down the year-old uprising against his regime.

The Opposition groups were invited by Turkey and Qatar, currently holding the rotating chair of the Arab League, for talks aimed at putting up a common front against Assad.

More than 300 representatives of various Opposition groups are attending the meeting which was opened by a Turkish Foreign Ministry official, Halit Celik, at a seaside hotel in Pendik, a suburb on the Asian side of the city.

"Turkey will not leave the Syrian people to their fate," Celik said, adding that there was no alternative except for Assad's regime to go. He extended his country's support to the Syrian National Council (SNC), an umbrella organization of different Opposition groups.

Opening proceedings were interrupted by the walkout of a senior Opposition leader after SNC President Burhan Ghalioun set out an action plan that called for greater unity.

Eighty-year-old Haitham al Maleh, a former judge who has been jailed by both Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad, said he was quitting the meeting because the SNC had assumed too much dominance and failed to let other activists have their say. His walkout heralded fierce debates over the strategy to overthrow Assad, as well as on calls for reform of the SNC, the Turkish media reported.

The SNC's action plan included raising international backing, support for peaceful protests, arming the rebel Syrian Free Army to resist Assad's security forces and raise money to pay recruits.

Ghalioun also called for backing for the one-day meeting to end with a "national oath," committing all the Opposition to building a democratic state, without any agenda for revenge, and to seek reconciliation once Assad is removed.

A draft declaration said the new Syria would be "civic, democratic and totally free," with a transitional government to organize a ballot to elect a founding assembly to draft a new Constitution.

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