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Syrian opposition leader repeats overture

| Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, 9:52 p.m.

DAMASCUS — The leader of Syria's main opposition group urged President Bashar Assad on Monday to respond to his offer for a dialogue, insisting he is ready to sit down with members of the regime despite sharp criticism from some of his colleagues.

Mouaz al-Khatib, leader of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, said he is extending his hand to the regime to “facilitate its peaceful departure.” And some anti-regime activists are behind him, threatening even deeper fractures in the already divided movement to oust Assad.

Al-Khatib's offer, first made last week, marks a departure from the mainstream opposition's narrative insisting that Assad step down before any talks. It has angered some of his colleagues who accuse him of acting unilaterally.

It is likely to be rejected by Syrian officials who insist Assad will stay in power at least until his term ends in mid-2014. And even if accepted, he will likely not have broad enough backing among the opposition to make any deal meaningful.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Assad began almost two years ago. The revolt, which began with largely peaceful protests, has turned into civil war locked in a deadly stalemate with sectarian overtones.

Al-Khatib's overture reflects the realization among some opposition leaders that a victory is unlikely to be achieved on the battlefield, as well as disillusionment with an international community that has largely failed to stem the bloodshed and has balked at military intervention to help topple Assad.

“The major powers have no vision. ... Only the Syrian people can find a solution to this crisis,” he said.

His initiative follows meetings he held separately with Russian, U.S. and Iranian officials on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich. Russia and Iran are Syria's two closest allies.

“It is possible that al-Khatib has recognized the fact that the world community is incapable of ending the crisis, but he and other Syrians can,” said Ahmed Souaiaia, a professor at the University of Iowa in International Studies, Religious Studies and the College of Law.

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