DOHA/DAMASCUS  - Syrians from a wide spectrum of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad began meeting in Doha Thursday to hammer out a government-in-waiting world powers will accept as credible and representative.
Many in Syria’s opposition, including rebels battling pro-regime forces, have urged world powers to intervene to stop the escalating bloodshed.
While fighting continued around the country on Thursday, as the Red Cross said it was struggling to cope with Syria’s worsening humanitarian crisis.
Heavy clashes for control of the mainly Kurdish northeastern town of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border killed 16 soldiers and 10 rebels, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syrian state television reported that “troops killed dozens of terrorists who tried to attack Ras al-Ain” and the rebels then fled back into Turkey.
Turkish media reported five Turks wounded by ricochets from across the border.
Fresh violence also broke out in the southern Damascus neighbourhood of Qadam and in Mazzeh in the west of the capital, said the Britain-based Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and medics on the ground. It said at least 86 people were killed on Thursday, including 38 soldiers.
The Observatory says more than 37,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, first as a protest movement and then an armed rebellion after the regime cracked down on demonstrations. In Geneva, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said the aid group was finding it difficult to manage a crisis that has also forced hundreds of thousands or people from their homes.
“The humanitarian situation is getting worse despite the scope of the operation increasing,” he told reporters. “We can’t cope with the worsening of the situation.” In Qatar, meanwhile, Syrians from a wide spectrum of opposition to Assad were meeting to begin hammering out a government-in-waiting world powers will accept as credible and representative.
Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi accused Arab League head Nabil al-Arabi of being a “partner, sponsor and tool of a terrorist project to destroy Syria” after he said on Wednesday that Assad’s regime would not last much longer. Ahmed Ben Helli, deputy head of the League - which with Qatar is brokering the meeting - told reporters in Doha that delegates had been urged to overcome the sharp divides that have dogged their efforts to unseat Assad.
The main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council, earlier elected a new 40-member general secretariat with Islamists, including at least five Muslim Brotherhood members, accounting for about a third. Despite calls from Washington for the SNC to be more representative, the some 400 members failed to elect a single woman or any Alawite to the leadership.
SNC officials said four members representing women and minorities, including a Christian and an Alawite, would now be added to the secretariat, which on Friday will elect 11 members to appoint a successor to outgoing president Abdel Basset Sayda.
Turkey confirmed it was in talks with NATO about the possible deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles on its soil, while insisting it would be purely defensive.
“It is only natural for us to take any measure for defence reasons,” President Abdullah Gul told reporters, adding that it was “out of the question for Turkey to start a war with Syria.”
Media reports have suggested the missiles could be deployed to create a partial no-fly zone and allow for the establishment of safe havens inside Syria.
An Armenian plane carrying humanitarian aid for Syria was made to land in Turkey on Thursday for what officials said was a “routine” search of its cargo. The plane, which was carrying 15 tonnes of food, was ordered to land in the Erzurum airport in eastern Turkey where teams of police and troops with sniffer dogs conducted a search of the cargo. The plane was allowed to take off for Syria after nothing suspect was found aboard, NTV television reported. The Armenian foreign ministry said the landing was planned. “It was a planned landing. The plane is carrying humanitarian cargo for Syrian Armenians in Aleppo,” Armenian foreign ministry spokesman Tigran Balaian told AFP in Yerevan.
Diplomatic sources quoted by the Anatolia news agency said the crew had handed Turkey a list of the cargo ahead of the flight.
Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said the landing “a routine practice in compliance with civil aviation rules being applied for the security of Syrian people” according to the Anatolia news agency.
It was the second time in a month that the Turkish authorities have ordered an Armenian plane heading for Syria to land for security checks.