Tensions divide Syrian opposition group

March 17, 2013 at 3:37 PM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, March 17 (UPI) -- Tensions are dividing Syria's main opposition group over whether to reach out to members of the current regime to form a new government, officials said.

Syrian Opposition Coalition talks are scheduled to begin Monday to discuss forming a new cabinet and appointing a new prime minister for the troubled country, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

The coalition could form an alternative government that excludes representatives of President Bashar Assad's regime, or they could reach out and form a transitional government, the newspaper said.

Some members are accusing coalition head Sheik Mouaz al-Khatib of betraying the group's original mandate because he favors seeking out potential liaisons within Assad's regime.

"We are telling him to resign," said Kamal Labwani, a coalition member. "If that happens, we finish off this illusion of dialogue."

 "We have liberated this land with our blood," he added. "Let's set up a government already."

Meanwhile, Syria's government said Sunday militant jihadist fighters were pouring into the war-torn nation by the hundreds with the assistance of the United States.

A report in the pro-government newspaper al-Watan claimed hundreds of militants had already joined up with Syrian rebels, and as many as 15,000 were undergoing training in Lebanon.

The newspaper blamed the alleged incursions on its neighbor Jordan as well as the United States and Persian Gulf nations. "Jordan has succumbed to the United States and Gulf States' pressure to become, like Lebanon and Turkey, a passage to the jihadists into Syria," al-Watan said.

Lebanon has denied any role in the alleged infiltrations. President Michel Suleiman said Saturday the stability of the region depended on not allowing the Islamist fighters to get a foothold in the region, China's Xinhua news agency said.

President Bashir Assad's government warned Lebanon Thursday it would fire into Lebanese territory if the alleged surge of militants did not cease. The army also reinforced positions near the Lebanese border.

Meanwhile, Assad's government continued to experience defections in the ranks.

A Syrian army general who defected this weekend with his son, an army captain, said he coordinated the move with "different factors of the Syrian revolution."

In an interview with al-Arabiya, Brig.Gen. Mohammed Khalouf and Capt. Izza al-Din, said their defection took a lot of planning.

"Preparations for my defection from the Assad regime started with coordinated planning with different factors of the Syrian revolution until it succeeded," Khalouf said in the broadcast from Jordan.

Kahlouf served as head of logistics and supply for the Syrian army and his son served in a reconnaissance unit, CNN said.

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