Syria opposition leader suggests transition plan

Head of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces Moaz al-Khatib, rear-centre left, speaks during the group's meeting in Istanbul Mr Khatib (centre) said he wanted to stop "the further decay of the Syrian people"

The outgoing leader of Syria's main opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib has put forward a detailed plan for the transition of power.

Mr Khatib's proposal comes as opposition delegates begin three days of key talks in Istanbul.

The proposal stipulates that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office, a demand likely to be rejected by Mr Assad and his key backer, Russia.

The UN estimates at least 80,000 people have died in the uprising so far.

Mr Khatib's proposal calls for Mr Assad and his family to be given a safe exit if he stands down.

The Syrian president would have 20 days to accept the offer, under the terms of the initiative, which would then allow Mr Assad a further month to hand over power to his prime minister or vice president.

Mr Khatib was elected head of the National Coalition in November 2012 but is shortly to step down, having resigned in March.

However, Mr Assad has made clear that he has no intention of standing down, and indeed plans to stand in presidential elections in June 2014, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from Beirut.

Analysis

The Russians and Americans have agreed to persuade the two sides in the Syrian conflict to attend a peace conference, possibly in Geneva next month. But can they deliver? Russia has praised what it called a "constructive response" from its ally, the Syrian government, which has said it's ready for dialogue without preconditions. But the Americans and the west are facing a tougher task with the Syrian opposition, which is divided and chaotic.

If all that's not enough to cast doubt over the international conference, a date for which has not yet been set, there are still clear differences between the Americans and the Russians themselves. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made it clear at a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Amman that the opposition's backers will step up their support for the rebels if the conference doesn't deliver agreement on a transition of power to a new Syria in which there would be no place for President Assad and his associates. For the Russians, that smacks of dictating the outcome of a negotiation which they say should be left up to the Syrians themselves.

With Mr Assad's forces currently making some gains on the ground, he is clearly in no mood to concede defeat by what he regards as a foreign-backed conspiracy, our correspondent says.

The Syrian government, backed by Russia, has said it will not accept any preconditions for talks. However, the opposition leadership, largely made up of exiles, risks losing what little credibility it has inside Syria if they abandon the demand for Mr Assad to step down, he adds.

Hezbollah involvement

The talks in Istanbul are aimed at revamping the own membership and leadership of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

They come amid intensifying diplomatic manoeuvres to try to bring about an end to the conflict.

Also on Thursday, further reports emerged about the involvement of the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah in the conflict on the side of the regime.

A source close to Hezbollah told the AFP news agency that 75 fighters had died in Syria since late last year.

The UK-based activist group the Syria Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) puts the figure of dead Hezbollah fighters even higher, at 104.

There have been reports of Hezbollah's involvement in the conflict for months but the militia has recently admitted sending fighters for the first time, in fighting over the key strategic town of Qusair.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of activists in Syria, said 53 people had died in violence in Syria on Thursday.

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