Opposition struggles to stay united as Arab League falters in Syria
DAMASCUS - Syria's opposition was in disarray Wednesday, struggling to present a united front in the face of a protest crackdown whose death toll rose again despite the presence of Arab League monitors.
Western powers have repeatedly called on the Syrian opposition to put aside differences and join forces in their bid to oust President Bashar al-Assad and his autocratic regime after more than nine months of bloody violence.
Stepping up its involvement, the United States sent Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, to Cairo late on Tuesday for consultations with the Arab League about Syria.
Democracy activists have denounced the 22-member Arab bloc over the "unprofessionalism" of a team of peace observers whose presence in Syria since last week has failed to stem the bloodshed.
Making matters worse, a pact that two of Syria's main opposition factions -- the Syrian National Council (SNC) and National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) -- agreed last week now appears to be in tatters.
The political agreement signed Friday in Cairo had outlined a "transitional period" should Assad's regime be toppled by a pro-democracy uprising that erupted in March.
However, in a Facebook posting, the Syrian National Council said late Tuesday the "document conflicts with the SNC's political programme and with the demands of the Syrian revolution."
Widely regarded as the most inclusive of Syria's opposition alliances, with representation from both the Muslim Brotherhood and parties drawn from the Christian and Kurdish minorities, the SNC has been at odds with some activists over the extent of foreign intervention required to bring change.
There was still no response to the statement from the NCB, an umbrella group of Arab nationalists, socialists, independents and Marxists which also comprises Kurds and is staunchly opposed to any foreign military intervention.
A dissident who spoke on condition of anonymity deplored the "divisions" within opposition ranks.
"It is taking time for the opposition to unite. If it was, the regime would have fallen last summer," he said, also lamenting that the international community had so far "refrained from mobilising its efforts to bring down the regime."
The disagreement within the opposition comes despite unrelenting violence in Syria, with an activist group reporting regime loyalists killed at least five civilians on Tuesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the security forces killed three civilians in the central city of Homs, even as state television reported Arab League observers were in the Homs region.
The Arab mission has been mired in controversy since the first observers arrived on December 26, with activists accusing Syria's regime of keeping the monitors on a short leash as it presses on with its lethal crackdown on dissent.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi admitted "there are still snipers and gunfire" even as he defended the mission, saying it had secured the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal of tanks from cities.
The Local Coordination Committees, which organise the protests, denounced the Arab League over the mission's shortcomings.
"We want to tell Nabil al-Arabi that the lack of professionalism of the observers and non-compliance with their arrival times in specific places have left many people killed," they said in a statement.
It further claimed the observers were being hampered by the regime.
"Soldiers wear police uniforms, drive repainted military vehicles and change the names of places, but this does not mean the army withdrew from cities and streets, or that the regime is applying the provisions of the Arab protocol."
The LCC estimate at least 390 people have been killed since the observers began their mission.
The Arab monitors were on Wednesday touring the flashpoints of Homs city, Dael in southern Daraa province and Harasta near Damascus, state television reported.
But activists are instead urging them to go to Sabaa Bahrat, in the heart of the capital, where they plan to stage an anti-regime demonstration on Wednesday.
"We invite the Arab League observers to act responsibly and protect the peaceful demonstrators. Our rights are being violated and we will struggle to recover them," they said on their Facebook page.
Hundreds of supporters of the regime were already gathering on the same square carrying Syrian flags and chanting pro-Assad slogans, a correspondent reported.
Overnight, the White House said that it is "past time" for the UN Security Council to act as "sniper fire, torture and murder" were continuing in Syria and the Arab League conditions for the regime have been dishonoured.
"We want to see the international community stand together united in support of the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
The United Nations estimated last month that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since March.