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Syrian opposition says 800 killed in past week

By Zeina Karam

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 1 2012 9:05 a.m. MDT

In this citizen journalism image provided by the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and accessed on Friday, June 29, 2012, protesters wave Syrian revolutionary flags and chant slogans during a demonstration in Idlib, north Syria. Syria’s main opposition group said nearly 800 people have been killed in violence across the country in the past week which saw some of the bloodiest violence in the 16-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria's main opposition group said nearly 800 people have been killed in violence across the country in the past week which saw some of the bloodiest violence in the 16-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Opposition activists groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed in the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule, or on average of about 900 a month. That would make last week's toll alone, tallied by the Syrian National Council (SNC), almost as high as the monthly average.

The conflict is also threatening to spill across borders after Syria shot down a warplane from neighboring Turkey, which responded by setting up anti-aircraft guns along the frontier. Turkey said Sunday it scrambled fighter jets to its border after Syrian helicopters flew too close to the frontier.

The cross-border tensions and the mounting death toll have added urgency to the diplomatic efforts at an international conference over the weekend aimed at stopping the bloodshed.

The conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted U.N.-brokered plan calling for creation of a transitional national unity government in Syria. But at Russia's insistence, the compromise agreement left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration. It could also include members of Assad's government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly bar Assad from any role in a new government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown on dissent.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on Saturday that Assad would still have to go.

It is now "incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall" and help force his departure," she said. "There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime," she said. "What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power."

Russia and China have shielded Assad's regime from U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the crackdown.

Syrian opposition groups rejected the U.N.-brokered plan. The SNC criticized it as too ambiguous, underlining the seemingly intractable nature of the conflict. The opposition called it a waste of time and vowed as they always do not to negotiate with Assad or members of his "murderous" regime.

"Every day I ask myself, do they not see how the Syrian people are being slaughtered?" veteran Syrian opposition figure Haitham Maleh asked. "It is a catastrophe. The country has been destroyed and they want us then to sit with the killer?"

Maleh described the agreement reached in Geneva as a waste of time and of "no value on the ground."

"The Syrian people are the ones who will decide the battle on the ground, not those sitting in Geneva or New York or anywhere else," he said by telephone from Cairo, where opposition groups are to meet Monday.

There was no reaction from the regime to the plan, but Assad has repeatedly said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists — his term for those fighting the regime — and will not accept any non-Syrian model of governance.

Fayez Sayegh, a prominent lawmaker and member of the ruling Baath party, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the conference, saying participants left it up to the Syrian people to decide their fate and form of governance.

"The conference ... did not discuss matters that have to do with the president as Western countries would have wished," Sayegh told The Associated Press.

Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based spokeswoman for the opposition SNC, said the agreement is "ambiguous" and lacks a mechanism or timetable for implementation.

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