DAMASCUS, (AFP) – Representatives of Syria’s six-month-old protest movement and opposition parties met in Turkey on Saturday to forge a united front against Bashar al-Assad’s regime after violence claimed at least 21 more lives.
Clashes between security forces and deserters killed 11 people in a village of Hama province on Friday, while another eight died during a crackdown on protests in flashpoint Homs, human rights activists said.
Two men died on Saturday from their wounds after being shot by security forces at Harasta and Qudsaya near Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It also said the body of a third man arrested on Friday at Talbisseh in Homs province was returned to his parents.
The Local Coordination Committees group put Friday’s death toll at 23.
Thousands of protesters had taken to the streets on Friday, the Muslim weekly day of prayer and a lightning rod in the protests against President Assad in which the United Nations says 2,700 people have been killed.
The protests were held under the slogan “victory for our Syria and our Yemen,” scene of another Arab uprising.
In Istanbul, the Syrian National Council, which is trying to unite opponents to Assad’s regime, was holding negotiations behind closed doors.
Several opposition movements are trying to reach an alliance, SNC member Khaled Khoja told AFP.
“We have been holding discussions for several days with Burhan Ghalioun; there are also Kurds and representatives of tribes,” he said.
Ghalioun, a France-based academic, was recently designated leader of a rival opposition group, the National Transitional Council, which has Islamist and nationalist supporters.
“When the SNC meets, there will be a new assembly which will be expanded to these new movements,” Khoja said, adding that the meeting scheduled for Saturday would now not take place before Sunday at the earliest because of the negotiations.
Elsewhere on the political front, Syria’s ambassador to the United States Imad Mustapha was called in to the State Department and “read the riot act” about an attempted attack on US ambassador Robert Ford.
A mob of nearly 100 Syrians chanting hostile slogans tried to storm an office in Damascus where Ford met opposition figure Hassan Abdelazim on Thursday.
Mustapha “was reminded that Ambassador Ford is the personal representative of the president (Barack Obama) and an attack on Ford is an attack on the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
The Assad regime had earlier accused Washington of inciting “armed groups” to commit violence against its army.
The UN Security Council remains divided over whether to threaten Assad’s regime with sanctions over its deadly crackdown on dissent.
European nations on Friday dropped the word “sanctions” from a proposed resolution on Syria in a bid to temper Russian opposition.
France, Britain, Germany and Portugal instead called for “targeted measures” in their draft text.
Russia and China have threatened to veto any resolution calling for punitive measures against Damascus.
On the ground, activists said those killed in Homs on Friday were shot dead by security forces, while around 250 tanks and armoured vehicles entered Rastan, a major city in the province and the scene of intense operations against army defectors.
“Five civilians and six military and security agents have been killed today in the village of Kafar Zita during clashes between soldiers and agents on one side and deserters on the other,” the Syrian Observatory said.
“Eight civilians were killed Friday in Homs province” by fire from security forces, added the Britain-based watchdog.
Much of the violence was in Rastan, about 180 kilometres (120 miles) from Damascus and a gateway to the north, where battles have raged since Tuesday between the army and deserters who refuse to fire on protesters.
The Observatory, citing a local activist, said an army officer was shot dead by pro-regime gunmen “for refusing to go to Rastan as ordered.”
Activists also reported protests in other locations including 10,000 people in Palmyra (Tadmur) in central Syria, as well as thousands in Hama, also in the centre, Idlib in the northwest and Zabadani just north of Damascus.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has said the death toll from the bloody crackdown has risen to more than 2,700 since March 15.