- Associated Press - Sunday, July 1, 2012

BEIRUT — Syria’s main opposition group said nearly 800 people have been killed in violence across the country in the past week, which brought some of the bloodiest violence in the 16-month uprising against President Bashar Assad.

Opposition activists groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed in the 15-month-old uprising against the president’s authoritarian rule, or on average of about 900 a month. That would make last week’s toll alone, tallied by the Syrian National Council (SNC), almost as high as the monthly average.

The conflict also is threatening to spill across borders in the aftermath of Syria shooting down a warplane from neighboring Turkey, which responded by setting up anti-aircraft guns along the frontier. Turkey said Sunday it scrambled fighter jets to its border after Syrian helicopters flew too close to the frontier.

The cross-border tensions and the mounting death toll have added urgency to the diplomatic efforts at an international conference over the weekend aimed at stopping the bloodshed.


The conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered plan calling for creation of a transitional national unity government in Syria.

But at Russia’s insistence, the compromise agreement left the door open to Mr. Assad being part of the interim administration. It could include members of Mr. Assad’s government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly bar Mr. Assad from any role in a new government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown on dissent.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted Saturday that Mr. Assad would still have to give up power.

It is now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall” and help force his departure,” she said. “There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime,” she said. “What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power.”

Russia and China have shielded the Assad regime from U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the crackdown.

Syrian opposition groups rejected the U.N.-brokered plan.

The SNC criticized the plan as too ambiguous, underlining the seemingly intractable nature of the conflict. The opposition called it a waste of time, and vowed as they always do not to negotiate with Mr. Assad or members of his “murderous” regime.

“Every day I ask myself, do they not see how the Syrian people are being slaughtered?” veteran Syrian opposition figure Haitham Maleh asked. “It is a catastrophe. The country has been destroyed, and they want us then to sit with the killer?”

There was no reaction from the regime to the plan, but Mr. Assad repeatedly has said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists - his term for those fighting the regime - and will not accept any non-Syrian model of governance.

Meanwhile, Turkey scrambled its jets days after saying it would treat any Syrian military unit approaching its border as a direct threat in response to the downing of a Turkish reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces on June 22.

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