Syrian opposition leaders gather in Istanbul to ink ‘founding principles’

Demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad have been taking place since the bloodshed began 16 months ago. (Reuters)

Syrian opposition leaders met Saturday for a second day of talks with hopes of inking the founding principles of a future Syria, now tarnished by a 16-month long bloodshed and political chaos.

Major Syrian opposition groups gathered once more in Istanbul under the umbrella of the main opposition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), recognized by most factions as the official voice, and a “legitimate representative of Syrians” by Western and Arab powers.

Saturday’s round looks at developing a declaration that sets out the basic principles of a democratic Syria, to be implemented after an eventual fall of the Damascus regime, said a political bureau member of the SNC.

“There are disagreements, but the atmosphere is good,” Louay Safi told AFP, referring to the cohesion among the participants, some of whom had walked out of a March meeting, refusing to sign a similar document.

This new version is expected to cover a wider range of topics, including the transition to a democratic Syria, and has a better chance of receiving more support and therefore signatures from factions, according to Safi.

On Saturday, the only major absentee was the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), a large group of Arab nationalists, Kurds and socialists, which said technical problems prevented their participation.

At the end of the two-day workshop, Syrian opposition groups hope to be ready for a major Syria conference to be held in Cairo under the auspices of the Arab League, at a date to be announced later.

Families trapped: NGO

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 families were trapped on Saturday in several neighborhoods of the central city of Homs and under bombardment by regime forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“More than 1,000 families, including women and children,” are trapped in the Khalidiyeh, Jourat al-Shiah, Qarabees, old Homs and Qusour areas. “They have no food and no medical equipment,” the watchdog’s Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

In a statement, the Observatory sent out an “urgent call” to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “and all those with a sense of humanity to intervene immediately, in order to put a stop to the continuous shelling.”

The Britain-based NGO also called for the “evacuation and protection of dozens of injured.”

The humanitarian situation of those trapped in the neighborhoods in question -- especially Khalidiyeh and Jourat al-Shiah, -- is “very bad,” Abdel Rahman said.

“More than 100 people are injured, many of them badly, and the lack of medical equipment means some of them will die,” he said, adding there was also a lack of medical staff.

Home to several bastions of the rebel Free Syrian Army, Homs has been under intermittent attack by regime forces since the Baba Amr district was pounded for a month earlier this year before being retaken, the Observatory said.

An escalation of violence over the past week has engulfed several areas of the country, including Homs. France's foreign ministry said on Friday it was deeply concerned at reports of "an imminent, large-scale operation" by regime forces in Homs.

More than 14,400 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in violence since the anti-regime uprising broke out in March last year, and a putative U.N.-backed truce has failed to bring a cessation of hostilities.

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