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Meeting in Damascus, opposition figures call for 'toppling the regime'

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:38 AM EDT, Mon September 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Raising pressure on al-Assad a goal at the U.N., top German diplomat says
  • Syrian opposition figures meet in Damascus, under the regime's watch
  • They blame Syria's government for being responsible for ongoing crisis
  • Syrian mortars cross border and hit Turkish villages, Turkish state media reports

(CNN) -- Opposition figures met Sunday inside Syria -- in its capital Damascus, and with the knowledge of its rulers -- and urged "toppling the regime" of President Bashar al-Assad "with all its figures and facets."

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency acknowledged the meeting, which it said included representatives of more than 20 opposition groups. The Syrian National Council, one of the most prominent opposition groups, was not among them.

SANA's website did not mention conference attendees call for al-Assad's ouster, instead generally noting heated discussions and claims that some participants felt the forum was divisive. Its story did refer to Russian Ambassador Azamat Kulmukhametov -- who addressed the conference -- talking about the need for a peaceful, political solution to Syria's crisis and to prevent foreign intervention.

The state-run news report characterized the conference as a forum "to discuss ways to get Syria out of the risks it is facing." It also quoted attendees discussing the importance of "dialogue" to address the nation's crisis, just as Syrian leaders have said for months.

Organizers of the conference later issued a statement detailing positions agreed to by participating parties, political organizations and individuals.

In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
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The group's first stance calls for "toppling the regime with all its figures and facets, which ensures the ability to build a civil democratic state (and) a state of law, justice and equal citizenship regardless of race, sex and religion."

Furthermore, conference attendees agreed to primarily pursue "non-violent resistance ... to accomplish the goals of the revolution." At the same time, it praised those Syrian troops who had refused to "kill their fellow countrymen" and defected to join the Free Syria Army, which the opposition parties said has a "duty to support, strengthen and defend the peaceful strategy of the revolution."

The Syrian army itself, the group said in its statement, needs to be extracted "from the clutches of the regime, who have forced this national institution to play a contradictory role in placing it against its countrymen."

Al-Assad's government is "primarily responsible for creating the atmosphere that is used for foreign intervention," attendees added.

Such denouncements of the Syrian regime are nothing new among opposition groups, though it is rare for them to be made in Damascus, effectively under the government's watch.

A day before the summit began, the event's organizers -- the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change -- said that three of its members were detained by Syrian Air Force Intelligence personnel after driving from Damascus International Airport on Thursday.

"We at the National Coordination Body hold the Syrian Authority completely responsible for the physical and mental well being of our members," the group said in a statement. "We demand that the Syrian regime free them immediately!"

The government's Information Ministry said the three were "kidnapped by terrorists on the airport highway," SANA reported Friday, and warned the perpetrators of "legal repercussions."

Here are other developments Sunday in a 18-month crisis that has left thousands dead and the country in turmoil:

On the ground: Fresh violence, continued fears

As the opposition meeting unfolded, the violence continued -- with one opposition group reporting 22 deaths, alone, in and around Damascus.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported at least 85 deaths total around the country, including 21 in Aleppo and 14 in Daraa.

Rebel leadership announces move from Turkey to Syria

State-run SANA said army troops had killed a "large number of terrorists" in Aleppo -- the country's largest city and a key battleground between regime and rebel fighters.

Armed forces "cleared" the area of a restaurant that "terrorists" had been using the as a center of operation, according to the news agency.

Throughout the Syrian conflict, the government has blamed "armed terrorist groups" for fueling violence in the country.

The LCC, meanwhile, said that barrels of TNT fell in the western province of Latakia.

Dissidents have reported an increased use of "barrel bombs" by the Syrian regime in recent weeks. Barrel bombs, often dropped by regime aircraft, are filled with TNT, nails and fuel to try to maximize damage, opposition activists say.

Opposition activists also reported seeing large military reinforcements -- including 30 armored vehicles -- headed to the hotly contested northern city of Tal Abyad, opposition activists said.

Rebels have been trying to take control of border crossings to secure a haven near Turkey, a country sympathetic to the Syrian opposition movement. But fighting in the border area show no sign of letting up.

Mortars hit villages in southern Turkey

The fighting in Tal Abyad spilled over, once again, into neighboring Turkey on Sunday.

Clashes between the Syrian regime and rebels have raged for days near the Tal Abyad border gate, which rebels seized last week to the glee of Turkish supporters.

But ongoing battles in the city of Tal Abyad have resulted in mortars hitting villages in the Turkish town of Akcakale, the town's mayor said, according to Turkey's Anadolu Agency. It was unclear whether there were any casualties.

"We wish the war will end soon in our neighbor Syria," Akcakale Mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan told Anadolu.

Diplomat: Increasing pressure on al-Assad a goal at U.N.

As dignitaries from nations around the world converge on New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly, what to do about Syria will be high on the agenda, Germany's top diplomat said Sunday.

"To increase pressure and to increase the isolation of the regime of al-Assad is one of the goals this week," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of Germany, whose nation this month is serving as president of the U.N. Security Council.

Numerous countries upset about what they perceive as the Syrian government's cruel, violent treatment of civilians have taken actions targeting the Syrian government. These have largely included sanctions, though some are suspected of funneling money and arms to opposition fighters within the war-torn country.

Yet action at the U.N. Security Council has been muted. Efforts by countries like the United States, France and Great Britain to be more forceful against al-Assad repeatedly thwarted by Russia and China, which have been wary of foreign intervention in Syria.

CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali, Sonia Kennebeck and Holly Yan contributed to this report.

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