Syria opposition struggles to stay united

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DAMASCUS: Syria’s opposition was in disarray Wednesday, struggling to present a united front in the face of a protest crackdown whose death toll rose again despite the presence of Arab League monitors.

Western powers have repeatedly called for the Syrian opposition to put aside differences and join forces in their bid to oust President Bashar Al-Assad and his autocratic regime after more than nine months of bloody violence.

Stepping up its involvement, the United States sent Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, to Cairo overnight for consultations with the Arab League about Syria.

Democracy activists have denounced the 22-member Arab bloc over the "unprofessionalism" of a team of peace observers whose presence in Syria since last week has failed to stem the bloodshed.

Making matters worse, a pact that two of Syria’s main opposition factions — the Syrian National Council (SNC) and National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) — agreed last week now appears to be in tatters.

The political agreement signed Friday in Cairo had outlined a "transitional period" should Assad’s regime be toppled by a pro-democracy uprising that erupted in March.

However, in a posting on its Facebook page, the Syrian National Council said late Tuesday that the "document conflicts with the SNC’s political program and with the demands of the Syrian revolution."

Widely regarded as the most inclusive of Syria’s opposition alliances, with representation from both the Muslim Brotherhood and parties drawn from the Christian and Kurdish minorities, the SNC has been at odds with some activists over the extent of foreign intervention required to bring change.

There was still no response to the statement from the NCB, an umbrella group of Arab nationalists, socialists, independents and Marxists which also comprises Kurds and is staunchly opposed to any foreign military intervention.

Michel Kilo, a prominent Syrian dissident who has been linked to the SNC, said the opposition grouping "considers itself the only representative of the Syrian population."

"It refuses to accept the existence of other opposition forces and rejects the formation of a committee to lead the common work of the different opposition groups", he added in remarks published Tuesday in France’s L’Humanite newspaper.

The disagreement within the opposition comes despite unrelenting violence in Syria, with an activist group reporting that regime loyalists killed at least five civilians on Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the security forces killed three civilians in the central city of Homs, even as state television reported Arab League observers were in the Homs region.

The Arab mission has been mired in controversy since the first observers arrived on December 26, with activists accusing Syria’s regime of keeping the monitors on a short leash as it presses on with its lethal crackdown on dissent.

Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi admitted "there are still snipers and gunfire" even as he defended the mission, saying it had secured the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of tanks from cities.

The Local Coordination Committees, which organize the protests, denounced the Arab League over the mission’s failings.

"We want to tell Nabil Al-Arabi that the lack of professionalism of the observers and non-compliance with their arrival times in specific places have left many people killed," they said in a statement.

It further claimed the observers were being hampered by the regime.

"Soldiers wear police uniforms, drive repainted military vehicles and change the names of places, but this does not mean the army withdrew from cities and streets, or that the regime is applying the provisions of the Arab protocol."

The LCC estimate at least 390 people have been killed since the observers began their mission.

The mission has also been criticized by Syrian activists and opposition figures over the choice of Sudanese General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa Al-Dabi, to head its observer operation.

Dabi served under Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that "as sniper fire, torture, and murder in Syria continue, it is clear that the requirements of the Arab League protocol have not been met".

"We believe it’s past time for the Security Council to act," Carney said.

"We want to see the international community stand together united in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people."

Meanwhile, the Damascus regime’s main regional ally Tehran demanded the release of seven of Iranians said to be engineers who were abducted in Syria last month.

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