Syrian opposition activists: 59 killed in shelling, sniper attacks by valjana


									      Syrian opposition activists: 59 killed in
      shelling, sniper attacks
    From Ivan Watson, CNN
    March 26, 2012 -- Updated 1916 GMT (0316 HKT)

    Top defector says Syrian rebels united

   NEW: At least 59 people are killed Monday across Syria, opposition activists say
   Opposition activists say heavy shelling rains on Homs
   Analyst: Getting support of Kurdish groups is key at the opposition meeting
   Turkey suspends operations of its embassy in Damascus
    (CNN) -- At least 59 people were killed as government forces shelled buildings and snipers fired on
    civilians in Syria Monday, opposition activists said.
    Heavy shelling rained on Homs, which has been a hotbed of anti-government sentiment, opposition
    activists said. At least 33 people were killed there, according to the opposition Local Coordination
    Committees of Syria.
    The dead include four young men gunned down when residents tried to retrieve two bodies, the
    opposition Syrian Network for Human Rights said.
    Also Monday, the Avaaz opposition group said Syrian authorities had arrested an activist who played
    a key role in delivering humanitarian aid into Homs and other besieged cities, in addition to helping
    foreign journalists enter Syria to report on the violence.
                                   Ending violence in Syria

Security forces ambushed Syrian activist Jassim Khaled Diab on Saturday while he was trying to
evacuate an injured person across the border into Lebanon, Avaaz said.
His reported detention calls into question the future reliability of a route that smugglers who oppose
the Syrian government have used to deliver aid to besieged cities, such as Homs.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Homs residents thanked Syrian troops
Sunday "for restoring security and stability to their neighborhood and saving them from the horror of
the armed terrorist groups."
On Monday, SANA said authorities had killed and wounded members of an "armed terrorist group"
that were trying to infiltrate Syria from Turkey.
The Syrian government routinely blames the vaguely defined "armed terrorist groups" for violence in
the country, while most reports from inside Syria indicate the government is slaughtering civilians in
an attempt to wipe out dissidents.
CNN cannot independently confirm reports from inside Syria because the government severely
restricts access by international journalists.
Also on Monday, Turkey announced it had suspended operations at its embassy in Damascus.
Turkey's consulate in Aleppo, however, is still functioning, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman
Selcuk Unal said.
Norway also announced it had closed its embassy in Damascus, citing security concerns.
While reports of terror and carnage mounted inside Syria, foreign-based opposition members met in
Turkey, aiming to form a unified front before a global conference on the Syrian crisis.
Meetings in Istanbul between exile opposition groups aim to find common ground before the
upcoming Friends of Syria conference, which will bring representatives of many countries to Turkey
"Most of the groups realize they have to unite to have a road map to get the support of the
international community," said Omar Shawaf, a member of the Syrian National Council, an
opposition coalition.
Participants said they hoped informal talks between opposition groups Monday would pave the way
for an agreement later in the week.
The goal of the conference is "for all forces and parties of the opposition not to be a union, but at
least to have a united purpose," said Ammar Qurabi, leader of the National Change Current
opposition group.
A key goal of the meeting will be getting Kurdish groups to support the opposition, he said. Kurds
make up about 10% of Syria's population, but have not played a major role in recent anti-
government protests.
"I think the Kurds could be a kingmaker. ... They're not acting in harmony with the Syrian opposition.
They're not protesting in large numbers. Most of them stay in their homes," said Ufuk Ulutas, a
Middle East expert at Turkey's Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research. "They're
waiting for something."
Observers of the Syrian crisis have bemoaned a lack of unity among Syrian opposition groups as
they struggle to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
National Change Current is not a member of the Syrian National Council, which has gained
recognition from the United States, France and other countries as a legitimate representative of the
Syrian opposition.
The SNC was the only opposition body represented at the first Friends of Syria conference, held last
month in Tunisia. Dozens of international leaders at the summit condemned the Syrian regime's
deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters while expressing support for the Syrian opposition and the
need for humanitarian aid in the country.
The opposition meetings in Istanbul come two days after a top military defector said armed rebel
groups have aligned under the leadership of the Free Syrian Army.
The United Nations estimates the Syrian conflict has killed more than 8,000 people; opposition
activists put the toll at more than 10,000.
United Nations-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan has offered a six-point plan -- supported by
the U.N. Security Council -- as a way to halt the violence. The Syrian government has formally
responded to the proposal, a spokesman for Annan said Monday.
The spokesman did not provide details about the Syrian government's response, but said Annan
was studying it and would respond shortly

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