AP News

Syrian opposition leader criticizes US


BEIRUT (AP) — The head of the main Syrian opposition group seeking to oust President Bashar Assad criticized U.S. officials Tuesday for saying it was premature to speak about a transitional Syrian government.

The comments came on the same day a car bomb ripped through a Damascus suburb, killing 12 people, according to Syria's official state news agency. Activists also said an airstrike in the town of Kfar Nabl in Idlib killed at least 13 people as fighting raged nationwide.

International diplomatic efforts have so far failed to stem the bloodshed. The leader of the Syrian National Council called on the United States and other allies to take decisive action instead of placing blame on the divided opposition.

Abdelbaset Sieda was responding to the U.S. reaction to French President Francois Hollande's assertion that the Syrian opposition should form a provisional government and promise that France would recognize it.

Hollande's statement, believed to be the first of its kind, was quickly shot down by U.S. officials who said it was premature to speak about a provisional government when Syria's fractured opposition hasn't even agreed yet on a transition plan.

The U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, cited persistent disagreements among factions including the Syrian National Council, rival groups, opposition figures campaigning outside the country and rebels fighting the regime on the front line.

Sieda told The Associated Press that the Syrian National Council is making "serious" preparations and consulting with other groups and rebels to form a government that could fill the leadership vacuum if Assad falls.

"Yes there are differences within the Syrian opposition and this is normal in any country, but as long as we are agreed on a common vision, these differences can be overcome," Sieda said in a telephone interview.

Sieda admitted no names have been discussed and an announcement was not imminent but insisted various factions would eventually pull together.

He said the U.S. comments show the international community is "not ready" to be decisive when it comes to Syria and is trying to put all blame on the opposition.

"The international community must make a move before it's too late," he added.

Syria's opposition has been plagued by divisions and infighting since the start of the uprising last year, and forming a transitional government is fraught with difficulties.

In addition to the SNC, several other groups are known to be making similar plans, including a new alliance headed by veteran opposition figure Haitham Maleh.

Human rights groups say more than 20,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against Assad began in March 2011.

Fighting persisted Tuesday in Aleppo — the nation's largest city and commercial capital — as well as the southern province of Daraa and eastern and northern provinces of Deir el-Zour and Idlib.

In Damascus, military helicopters dropped thousands of leaflets over the city and its suburbs, urging rebels to hand over their weapons or face "inevitable death."

The psychological warfare is part of a widening and deadly offensive to recapture areas near the capital that have fallen into rebel hands.

In Jaramana, the car bomb badly damaged a five-story apartment building, knocking out windows and shaving off balconies, according to an AP reporter who visited the scene. At least 10 cars also were charred.

The windows from two nearby buildings were shattered from the impact of the blast, and vegetables and fruits from a nearby vendor were strewn across the street.

SANA earlier reported that the blast targeted a funeral procession for two people who were killed a day earlier in the area. It was the third bombing in Jaramana in the past 24 hours, according to SANA.

No further details were immediately available. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a bomb exploded during the funeral of two pro-regime civilians killed in overnight bombings in Jaramana.

Jaramana, southeast of Damascus, has a majority of Christians and Druze and is close to the capital's international airport. Pro-regime youth groups have recently set up checkpoints in the area to try to stop rebels from the neighboring Ghota neighborhood from crossing over.

Those killed Tuesday included a 6-year-old girl, Farah, who was playing in the street with her brother when the blast hit. Her brother was wounded.

"Where is my Farah?" her 24-year-old mother Hoda Mohammed, asked repeatedly as she wept on the street.

For more than a month, the military has been fighting major battles against rebels in the outskirts of Damascus and its suburbs while engaged in what appears to be a stalemated fight in the north against rebels for control of Aleppo, the nation's largest city and commercial capital.

The government recently has stepped up its offensive to recapture rebellious districts on the capital's periphery, and hundreds of people have been killed in several days of shelling and clashes in the affected areas. Over the weekend evidence mounted of mass killings by regime forces in the Damascus suburb of Daraya after it was stormed by troops.

Some of the leaflets dropped Tuesday, which were signed by the armed forces and the army's general command, read: "The Syrian army is determined to cleanse every inch in Syria and you have only two choices: Abandon your weapons ... or face inevitable death."

"No one will help you. They have implicated you in taking up arms against your compatriots," they said. "They drown in their pleasures while you face death. Why? And for whom?"

Syrian authorities blame the more than 17-month uprising on a foreign conspiracy and accuse oil-rich Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in addition to the U.S. and Turkey, of backing "terrorists" seeking to oust the regime.

Assad told an Iranian delegation this week that he was determined to crush the conspiracy against Syria "whatever the price."

___

Associated Press writer Albert Aji contributed to this report from Damascus.


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