Coordination of actions: Syria’s opposition steps up pressure on Assad
DAMASCUS - The political and military opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced Monday they have set up a hotline to coordinate their action, as foreign and internal pressure mounts on his regime.
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella group, said in a statement the decision was taken in talks on Saturday night with the Syrian Free Army (SFA), formed of deserters from the military.
A liaison office was set up and "a hotline to follow internal political developments on the ground," it said.
The statement said further meetings would be held involving military experts "to strengthen the capacity of the SFA against regime forces and to protect civilian regions which the regime wants to raid or pillage."
The talks on Saturday also focused on efforts to "restructure SFA units and create a modern and flexible structure ... to allow for rapid deployment" and cope with the daily inflow of deserting officers and soldiers.
The FSA claims to have gathered some 40,000 fighters under its command since an anti-regime revolt broke out in Syria in mid-March. A government crackdown on dissent has since cost more than 5,000 lives, according to a UN estimate.
Dozens of people have died in FSA attacks on the regular army.
A media advisor to a top Syrian army defector, General Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheikh, said last week that a special council is being set up to oversee all military operations.
The council will "help organise defections within the army and will be in contact with officers in the regular army to encourage large-scale rather than individual defections," he said.
On the international front, UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged Assad to stop killing his own people, as Damascus announced a general amnesty which the opposition dismissed as a sham.
"Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end," Ban said in a keynote address at a conference in Beirut on democracy in the Arab world.
Ban's comments came as Assad announced a general amnesty.
"President Assad issued a decree stipulating a general amnesty for crimes committed during the events between March 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012," the official SANA news agency reported.
It said the amnesty, the third of its kind, covered infringements of the law on peaceful demonstrations, the possession of unlawful weapons and army desertion.
But the opposition Muslim Brotherhood dismissed the amnesty as "neither serious nor credible."
"The regime is trying to make its unrealistic plans for reconciliation and national dialogue credible, and it is in this context that it is making such announcements, for propaganda purposes," the group added.
Releasing prisoners is one of the key conditions of an Arab League roadmap approved by Syria in November to end the country's crisis.
The emir of Qatar said in an interview with US network CBS that he favoured dispatching Arab troops to Syria to "stop the killing," a proposal described by former Arab League chief Amr Mussa as "very important."
Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani's interview with "60 Minutes" is the first public call by an Arab leader for an Arab military presence in Syria.
The emir's comments, whose wealthy nation once enjoyed cordial ties with Damascus, come with the Arab League set to review the work of its much-criticised Syria monitoring mission later this month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 civilians were killed by security forces on Sunday -- seven men and a woman in Homs, and three men in Qorqos village in the southern province of Quneitra.
It also said 19 soldiers were abducted by deserters who ambushed their convoy in the southern Daraa province.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Sunday condemned the "silence" of the UN Security Council on Syria's deadly crackdown.
In October, Russia and China vetoed a Western draft resolution that would have condemned Assad's regime. Russia later circulated an alternative that would have pointed the finger at both sides.