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Syria

Syria factions form broader opposition coalition

Syrian opposition factions have forged a new coalition to oust President Bashar Assad. Its leader is Muslim cleric Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib. His deputies are the US-backed Riad Seif and female figure Suhair al-Atassi.

The formation of the new umbrella group - the National Coalition of the Forces of the Syrian Revolution and Opposition - follows belated endorsement by the existing Syrian National Council (SNC).

The council had come under intense Arab and Western pressure to accept the unity plan drawn up by Seif after mounting criticism that the SNC was ineffective against Assad and his forces.

Khatib, a former imam at the famous Umayyad mosque in Damascus, fled Syria three months ago for Cairo after being imprisoned several times for criticizing Assad's rule. Khatib is reputedly seen as independent from Islamist parties such as the influential Muslim Brotherhood.

SNC's Sabra praises Khatib

"He is from Damascus and is a famous man from there. I think this is a serious step against the regime, and a serious step towards freedom," said George Sabra, a Christian dissident and trained geographer who was elected as the SNC's new president on Friday.

Israel replies to Syria shelling

Sabra also praised the choices of Seif and Atassi as the new coalition's vice presidents alongside Khatib.

"They are very good representatives of this project. They are activists in our revolution. Most of them have made large sacrifices for the people inside the country," he said.

Businessman Mustafa Sabbagh was voted as the new coalition's general secretary. Delegates said a Kurd could be chosen as a third deputy president in coming days.

Next steps 'more important'

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, who defected via Jordan in August, said Sunday's agreement in Qatar's capital Doha was "an advanced step towards toppling the regime."

Host Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim said: "This work has ended but the next step is more important."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu said Syria's opposition was no longer divided and needed full backing. "The friends of Syria ... should support this agreement ... There is no excuse anymore," he said.

Israeli shot on Golan Heights

On Sunday, the Israeli army fired a warning shot at a Syrian outpost after a stray mortar shell hit an Israeli military post on the Golan Heights.

Arab foreign ministers are to meet in Cairo on Monday to discuss the Syrian conflict, which has claimed at least 37,000 lives since early last year. International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is expected to attend those talks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighting had flared again on Sunday near the Turkish border as Syrian troops and rebels battled for the town of Ras al-Ain. Thousands of residents have fled into Turkey in recent days.

Nationwide violence had claimed at least 64 lives on Sunday, the Observatory said.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AFP)

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