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Syrian opposition members form national council
Syrian opposition figures announce national council following meetings in Istanbul
By The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) ' A Syrian dissident says some members of the opposition have formed a national council with the aim of presenting a united front for the fragmented movement opposing President Bashar Assad.

Obeida al-Nahhas spoke to The Associated Press by phone from Istanbul, Turkey, where a group of regime opponents have been meeting for several days. He refused to discuss details of the council, saying they are still being worked out.

The Syrian uprising began more than five months ago. Assad's regime has been shaken but is in no imminent danger of falling. The protest movement has been working to form a united voice, but infighting has slowed the process.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BEIRUT (AP) ' Syrian security forces killed at least seven people in the restive central city of Homs soon after a U.N. humanitarian assessment team left the area because the security situation was deteriorating, activists said Tuesday.

Monday's bloodshed came as the overall death toll from President Bashar Assad's crackdown on the 5-month-old uprising in Syria reached 2,200, the United Nations said.

The U.N.'s top human rights body voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to demand that Syria end its crackdown and cooperate with an international probe into possible crimes against humanity.

The U.N. assessment team had been advised to leave Homs for security reasons when "a protest situation developed," U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday in New York.

"The mission did not come under fire," he said.

Syria has banned foreign media and severely restricted local coverage, making it nearly impossible to confirm events on the ground. Amateur videos posted by activists online showed crowds of people thronging cars with the blue U.N. flag, flashing banners that read: "We will never stop until we get our freedom."

The protesters chanted for freedom and the downfall of the regime.

Syria granted a U.N. team permission to visit some of the centers of the protests and crackdown to assess humanitarian needs, but activists and a Western diplomat have accused the regime of trying to scrub away signs of the crackdown.

Residents and activists said it was quiet until the team left, after which troops opened fire on an anti-government protest, killing four. Gunmen also killed three others elsewhere in Homs, which has become a hotbed of dissent against Assad.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Syria said that Ambassador Robert Ford visited the country's south after getting permission from the Syrian foreign ministry. An official at the embassy described it as a "short and routine" trip to the village of Jassem near the southern city of Daraa. The area has been witnessing large anti-government protests.

A trip last month by the U.S. and French ambassadors to the central city of Hama to express support for protesters drew swift condemnation from the Syrian government, which said the unauthorized visits were proof that Washington was inciting violence in the Arab nation.

The Syrian foreign minister then warned both ambassadors not to travel outside the capital without permission.

The Local Coordination Committees and the London-based Observatory for Human Rights, two activist groups with a wide network of sources on the ground, reported that security forces stormed several villages in the southern and northern parts of the country, arresting scores on Tuesday.

Assad, who has tried in vain to crush the revolt, blames the unrest on Islamic extremists and thugs.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday criticized Assad for failing to halt a military crackdown on dissent despite a pledge he made to the U.N. chief by phone on Wednesday that all military and security operations would end.

"It is troubling that he has not kept his word," the U.N. chief told reporters in New York.


Zeina Karam can be reached on

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