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Syria Opposition Holding Unity Talks

George Sabra was selected as Syrian National Council leader through a ballot held at a meeting in Doha. (file photo)
Syrian opposition factions are expected to continue talks in Qatar on forming a new Western-backed opposition organization to intensify the battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The United States and other Western and Arab supporters of the opposition have called for the formation of a broad-based organization that could seek international recognition, coordinate with rebels and activists inside Syria, and prepare for a transitional government.

The current opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council (SNC), has been criticized for excluding some groups and failing to develop strong links with rebels inside Syria.

If it joins, the SNC is not expected to dominate the new organization.

After days of talks, the SNC on November 9 selected veteran dissident George Sabra, a Christian and former communist, to be its new president.

The selection of a Christian is apparently aimed at easing concerns about Islamist influence in the SNC. But there have already been complaints that the new leadership assembly of the group includes many Islamists and has no women in senior positions.

After his election, Sabra immediately urged deliveries of arms to rebels to continue the fight against Assad's forces. He also backed the holding of free democratic elections in Syria.

"We hope to have in our country democratic elections that allow people - with all their political and religious affiliations and varied social classes -- to take part freely and help build a new Syrian nation, which the Syrian people have paid the price for in tens of thousands of victims," Sabra said.

Growing Number Of Refugees

The opposition meetings in Doha come as the United Nations said on November 9 that more than 11,000 Syrians had fled into neighboring countries over the previous 24 hours -- including some 9,000 into Turkey.

This brings to more than 408,000 the number of registered Syrian refugees in the region.

The United States, meanwhile, has announced it will provide another $34 million in aid for refugees, pushing Washington's total donations connected to the conflict to more than $165 million.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the regime appeared to be stepping up its targeting of civilians as it comes under increasing pressure from rebel forces, including in the capital, Damascus.

"[The Syrian regime] seems to be intentionally increasing its targeting of civilians," Nuland told reporters in Washington.

"We are seeing intensified fighting and explosions in neighborhoods all over the country, but particularly in Damascus, including the fact that this fighting is getting closer and closer to government installations. So obviously, even as they attack their own people, the regime is losing more and more control, including in Damascus."

In an interview with the Russia Today television channel, President Assad said the conflict was not a civil war.

He said his forces were continuing to fight terrorists who were being funded by foreigners, with the goal of destabilizing Syria.

Pro-opposition monitors say more than 37,000 people – civilians, rebel fighters and government troops – have been killed in Syria since the uprising against the Assad regime began in March, 2012.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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