Syrian opposition meeting in Qatar to broaden, unify ranks

* Four days of talks seen to meld disparate anti-Assad

groups

* Key goal is to align opposition abroad with rebels in

Syria

* Unity seen as key to international recognition, weapons

DOHA, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Syria's splintered opposition

factions prepared to begin talks in Qatar on Sunday on a common

front to gain international respect and recognition and,

crucially, better weapons for their quest to oust President

Bashar al-Assad.

It was the first concerted attempt to meld opposition groups

based abroad and align them with rebels fighting in Syria, to

help end a 19-month-old conflict that has killed over 32,000

lives, devastated swathes of the major Arab country and

threatens to widen into a regional sectarian conflagration.

Divisions between Islamists and secularists as well as

between those inside Syria and opposition figures based abroad

have thwarted prior attempts to forge a united opposition.

Four days of talks in the Qatari capital Doha are expected

with the goal of expanding and broadening the Syrian National

Council (SNC), the largest of the overseas-based opposition

groups, from some 200 members to 400, SNC politicians said.

SNC leaders hope this will pave the way for a separate

meeting in Doha on Thursday of the wider opposition movement,

aiming to form a united coalition.

"The four coming days for the Syrian National Council...

will see for the first time the election of the leading

committees and a new president for the council," veteran

opposition figure George Sabra told Reuters ahead of the talks.

The broadened council will include more representatives from

other political and revolutionary groups, he said.

The United States called last week for an overhaul of the

opposition's leadership, saying it was time to move beyond the

SNC and bring in those "in the front lines fighting and dying".

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the meeting in Qatar

would be an opportunity to establish a credible opposition.

Internal divisions, including a lack of cooperation between

leaders abroad and fighters in Syria, as well as the rising

profile of Islamist militants in rebel ranks, have put off

Western states otherwise keen to see Assad fall.

Influential opposition figure Riad Seif has proposed a

structure melding the rebel Free Syrian Army, regional military

councils and other insurgent units alongside local civilian

bodies and prominent opposition figures.

IMPROVING PITCH FOR ARMS

Western, Turkish and Arab recognition of the new opposition

structure, Seif said in an interview with Reuters last week,

will help channel anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to the

rebels and "decide the battle".

Western diplomats based in the Middle East said Washington

was supporting an initiative by Seif.

But there were early signs the discussions in Doha, the

capital of Qatar, would not go smoothly.

Opposition sources said the success of Seif's initiative

would depend partly on the degree to which he could resist

pressure from the SNC to pack the new assembly proposed by Seif

with its members.

"The revolution in Syria has been making strides in its

drive to remove Assad at a heavy cost in lives regardless and in

spite of the disarray in political leadership," Catherine

al-Talli, a leading opposition campaigner, told Reuters.

"But Seif's initiative will be well received if it results

in a political leadership with representation of the real forces

on the ground. This is critical to bring the support to the

revolution that can accelerate the toppling of Assad."

Senior SNC member Burhan Ghalioun said the assembly proposed

by Seif would complement the SNC structure but not replace it.

Ghalioun said the SNC backed "creating a circle that bring the

opposition parties together and works as one team."

"We will succeed if we make (the Seif initiative) an

operation room for the opposition," he said, adding that the SNC

has 15 seats in the assembly proposed by Seif, and want to

increase that to around 22 seats.

Seif's proposal would suffer if it were perceived as nothing

more than a replacement for the SNC, he added.

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