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Syria Crisis: Opposition Meeting In Brussels Hopes To Forge Unity Against Assad

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Member of the Syrian National Council Georges Chachan, right, and Co-Founder of the Democratic Syria Foundation Samir Aita attend a meeting of Syrian opposition parties in Brussels on Sunday, June 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) | AP

BRUSSELS -- Members of disparate Syrian groups opposed to the rule of President Bashar Assad tried Sunday in Brussels to hash out their differences and plan for a democratic transition.

The different opposition groups are riven by divisions over whether outside military intervention would help or hurt the country – and whether to engage in dialogue with Assad's regime. In addition, some Islamists opposed to Assad's rule are not viewed by other opposition members as true democrats.

While much of the focus of the conference, which runs through Monday and had about 50 participants, was on planning for a post-Assad transition to democracy, participants held different opinions on how to reach that point.

If the violence continues, outside military intervention is "essential," Georges Chacan, a member of the Syrian National Council, told The Associated Press.

"We agree with any intervention to put an end to this regime and to stop the bloodshed," Chacan said. "But we need to keep the civilian infrastructure working. Because you cannot build a new state, a democratic state on rubble."

A representative of a different opposition group – Mikail Morhaf, of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change – said rubble was precisely what outside intervention would create.

"Military intervention always puts a country into chaos," Morhaf said, adding that civil society and the army would be destroyed. "A political solution is the only solution possible."

That view was shared by Lahbib Adami, the Arab League's ambassador in Brussels.

"They will have to negotiate, first among the opposition and then even with the regime because it is the warring parties that need to sit around the table and not the friends," Adami said.

Any military intervention in the Middle East without the support of the Arab League would be politically fraught – and highly unlikely. Western powers did not intervene in Libya, where there was an uprising against a despotic ruler, until the Arab League gave its blessing.

Activists say more than 14,000 people have been killed during the 15-month uprising against Assad's government, most of them civilians.

The European Union helped finance Sunday's conference. But Pierre Vimont, a top EU diplomat, said it was for the Syrian people, not the EU, to plan the country's future.

Vimont said there was no time to lose.

"I think we all can see the sense of urgency that is there at the moment," he said. "As we go on, and are having difficulty in finding a solution, violence is going on on the ground, casualties are increasing, the number of dead is growing every day. ... Time is of the essence here."


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syria car bomb Syrian policemen inspect the site of a car bomb explosion on Mazzeh highway in the capital Damascus on July 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)

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U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:

@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.

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Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.


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The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.

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How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.

Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say.

Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.

Read the full report here.

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syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a victim wounded by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. The accounts, some of which claim more than 200 people were killed in the violence Thursday, could not be independently confirmed, but would mark the latest in a string of brutal offensives by Syrian forces attempting to crush the rebellion. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)

syria This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)

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According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."

Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.


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Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.

@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria

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@ Reuters : At least 100 killed in Syrian village: opposition activists

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