* Four days of talks seen to meld disparate anti-Assad
* Key goal is to align opposition abroad with rebels in
* 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
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.