Egypt's president urges help for Syrian opposition

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Story highlights

  • At least 94 people have died Thursday, the LCC said
  • Egypt's Morsy says helping Syria's opposition is "a moral obligation"
  • The Syrian delegation at the Iran summit walks out in protest during Morsy's speech
  • Protesters take to the streets after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's interview

Egypt's new president slammed the Syrian government and called for support for opposition forces Thursday.

Egypt's Mohamed Morsy called President Bashar al-Assad's government "an oppressive regime that has lost its legitimacy." He said backing the opposition is "a moral obligation, and a political and strategic step that comes in our belief of a new independent Syria."

Morsy made the remarks at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Iran, whose theocratic Shiite regime backs al-Assad. It was the first visit by an Egyptian president to Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Two weeks ago, at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's summit in Saudi Arabia, Morsy spoke of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey working together to deal with the Syrian crisis. He was quoted by Egypt's Ahram Online as saying "it is time for the Syrian regime to leave."

On Thursday in Iran, the Syrian delegation at the summit walked out in protest during Morsy's speech and returned after he finished. The president's remarks were being aired live on Syrian state media, but they were cut short.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moallem on State TV called the remarks inciting and an interference in Syria's internal affairs.

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Morsy's support of the Syrian opposition reflects his solidarity with the people who took to the streets during the Arab Spring, the popular label for the democratic movements that swept across the Middle East and North Africa last year.

The grassroots opposition that forced the departure of President Hosni Mubarak and the collapse of his autocratic and pro-West regime last year led to this year's democratic election of Morsy.

Egypt is the most populous Arab country and is very influential, and Morsy's remarks underscore the isolation of al-Assad's regime in the Arab world, particularly among Sunnis.

Al-Assad is opposed by Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and his domestic opposition is predominantly Sunni. His regime is dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Muslims.

Morsy is long affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood's political movement, which is a traditionally Islamist movement.

In other developments:

Rebels report shooting down a jet

The Free Syrian Army shot down a military jet fighter in Idlib province, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

Amateur video shot by activists shows an aircraft with smoke coming from it and the pilot ejecting from the aircraft.

There was no immediate reaction from the Syrian government.

Bread lines attacked, rights groups says

Syrian forces have bombed and fired near 10 bakeries in Aleppo province, killing dozens and maiming others, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.

In one attack two weeks ago, at least 60 people died, the group said.

"Day after day, Aleppo residents line up to get bread for their families, and instead get shrapnel piercing their bodies from government bombs and shells," said Ole Solvang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, who has just returned from Aleppo. "Ten bakery attacks is not random -- they show no care for civilians and strongly indicate an attempt to target them."

Government forces attack 'terrorist groups'

At least 94 people died across Syria on Thursday, the LCC said. At least 26 of those deaths occurred in Damascus and its suburbs and an additional 26 in Idlib province.

Syrian state media said military forces attacked "armed terrorist groups" Thursday in various provinces, including Aleppo.

"The operations resulted in the killing and injury of a large number of terrorists and the destruction of their dens," the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. The government has said its forces are battling terrorists, a term the regime uses to describe those seeking the president's ouster.

Demonstrators protest president's remarks

Protesters took to the Damascus streets Wednesday night after a pro-government television station aired an interview with al-Assad. In the interview, he said Syria is getting better and moving forward.

Crowds chanted and carried placards slamming the president's comments.

"It has been a while since we laughed, so go ahead & let us hear your nonsense," one placard said.

U.S. gives Syrian opposition tips on governance

The United States is training the Syrian opposition on governance as more areas slip from regime control.

The State Department says the programs address issues such as civil administration, human rights and other services.

Council members are learning "the kinds of things that they might need from the international community as they begin to rebuild their towns," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "They're asking for help in how to budget. They're asking for help in how to keep utilities running. How to ensure that the institutions of the state that, you know, provide services to the population, come back up and running.

Tunisia urges more nations to step up to the plate

Tunisia, the small North African nation where the Arab uprisings began last year, is calling on other countries to help with relief efforts.

State media reported that Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafiq Abdul Salam urged other nations to help Jordan, which is under a heavy financial burden because of the influx of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict.