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Syria opposition softens stance on role of Assad's party

Beirut: The leader of Syria's main opposition group said on Monday that he would not oppose a role for members of President Bashar Assad's ruling Baath party in the country's political future as long as they did not participate in killings during the uprising.

The comments by Syrian National Council (SNC) head Abdulbaset Sieda appear to be a softening of the opposition's stance that it will accept nothing less than the complete removal of the Assad regime and the president's inner circle. He said that the Turkey-based SNC will meet next week in Qatar and will discuss, among other things, the possibility of Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa serving as interim leader if Assad steps down.

Representative image. AP

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday that al-Sharaa was a figure "whose hands are not contaminated in blood" and therefore acceptable to Syrian opposition groups.

"We are with any solution that stops the killings in Syria and respect the ambitions of the Syrian people in what guarantees that there will be no return to dictatorship and tyranny in Syria," Sieda said by telephone from Turkey.

When asked about al-Sharaa, Sieda said, "We have no information that he participated in the killings or gave orders but he belongs to the political leadership."

Syrian officials say Assad will remain in his post until his 7-year term ends in 2014 followed by an election between Assad and other candidates.

On Monday, the UN's secretary-general made a strong appeal to halt the flow of arms into Syria and warned that the crisis threatens stability in the entire region. Ban Ki-moon said he is "deeply concerned" about the continued flow of arms to both the Syrian government and opposition forces, and said a "political solution" is "the only way out of the crisis."

Speaking at an international conference on democracy in the French city of Strasbourg, the UN chief described the escalating conflict along the Syrian-Turkish border and the impact on Lebanon as "extremely dangerous."

In his speech to the World Forum for Democracy, Ban said the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi would return to the region this week to continue international efforts seeking political transition in Syria.

Sieda said the Syrian opposition will not repeat a policy carried out in Iraq years ago when members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party were forced to leave their jobs after his government was overthrown during the 2003 US-led invasion.

De-Baathification, a concept started under the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority which ruled Iraq after the invasion, was an Iraqi government policy of trying to purge important government jobs and positions of former mid and high-ranking members of the Baath Party.

"We will not repeat the failed experience of de-Baathification," Sieda said. "We will just remove all its (Baath party's) illegitimate privileges and officials who committed crimes will be put on trial," he added. "The Baath party will practice its activities in accordance with the democratic process. We will not have a revenge policy and we will preserve state institutions," he said.

Activists estimate about 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old uprising that has morphed into a civil war.

Tensions remained high along Turkey's border with Syria a day after a Syrian mortar round landed some 200 meters (yards) inside Turkey, near the village of Akcakale. Turkey's military retaliated, targeting locations inside Syria.

The incident follows a deadly attack last week, when another shell hit the area, killing five people and wounding several others.

The Turkish armed forces have deployed en masse to the region, but residents of Akcakale still fear for their safety.

"If this shelling is going to continue day in and day out, we can't live here. We are not safe, our property is not safe," said Hamit Ciftcioglu, whose jewelry store is just 75 meters (yards) from where the mortar round hit Sunday.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Syria not to test his government's patience.

AP

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