21 Nov 2011

Hague urges Syrian opposition leaders to unify

Foreign Secretary William Hague meets Syrian opposition leaders in London and tells them to “put aside their differences”.

With the UN claiming that more than 3,500 people have died in Syria since protests against President President Bashar al-Assad began in March,
Mr Hague said: “I urged Syrian opposition groups today to come together peacefully and agree a common platform for the future of Syria.

“At an extreme moment in their nation’s history, it is important for opposition groups to be able to put aside their own differences and come to a united view of the way forward.”

Britain has not given formal recognition to Syrian opposition groups, as it did with Libya’s National Transitional Council, because there is not a single, unified movement against the regime. There are fears that the country could descend into civil war if the regime falls without a cohesive opposition to take its place.

Prime Minister David Cameron‘s official spokesman said: “We have said many times that we think the behaviour of the Assad regime is completely unacceptable, and indeed we have asked for Assad to step aside, as have the US.

We think the behaviour of the Assad regime is completely unacceptable. Prime Minister’s official spokesman

“What we would like to see in Syria is a transition in time to a more democratic future. For that to happen, there will need to be opposition parties. There will need to be alternatives to the Assad regime.”

The talks follow the expiry of an Arab League deadline for President Assad to pull the military out of urban centres and free political prisoners. He said in an interview with the Sunday Times that he would not bow to international pressure to stop the crackdown.

‘Youths killed’

In Syria, activists said Syrian forces killed two youths when they stormed a neighbourhood in the city of Homs looking for a football star who has been leading anti-government protests. The state news agency said security forces killed four “terrorists” in Homs, including one of the most wanted men in the city.

On Monday, gunmen opened fire on a convoy of Turkish buses carrying pilgrims inside Syria, Turkish media reported. Some of the travellers said the attackers appeared to be Syrian soldiers.

Syrian authorities have barred most independent journalists from entering the country, making it difficult to verify these claims.

An EU diplomat said that at a meeting in Brussels on Monday, EU states discussed extended sanctions on Syria. He said the sanctions were likely to target more individuals responsible for the violence. The US has also imposed sanctions, former ally Turkey has criticised President Assad and Syria has been suspended by the Arab League.

Russian opposition

Russia, which joined China last month in vetoing a western-drafted UN Security Council resolution condemning President Assad, accused western countries of undermining the chances of a peaceful resolution in Syria.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We see a situation in which the Arab League is calling for an end to violence and the start of talks, while absolutely contradictory calls are coming from western capitals and the capitals of some regional countries.”