* U.S, Qatar pile on pressure for Syria opposition to reach
* Assad comments hasten sense that opposition must be ready
By Rania El Gamal and Regan Doherty
DOHA, Nov 9 Syria's fractious opposition, under
pressure from the United States and Qatar to unite, looked
likely on Friday to agree to form an inclusive new opposition
body that would serve as a unity government if Bashar al-Assad
Qatar, which has bankrolled the opposition to Assad and
played a leading role in Arab diplomacy against him, is hosting
an opposition meeting, with senior U.S. diplomats hovering on
the sidelines, prodding the opposition to make a deal.
Rebel advances on the ground and increasing economic and
social disintegration within Syria have added to the pressure on
the opposition to form a body that can rule after Assad.
A source inside meetings that lasted into the early hours of
Friday morning said members of the Syrian National Council
(SNC), a group made up mainly of exiled politicians, had shifted
views and were coming to accept the need to form a wider body.
"We will not leave today without an agreement," the source
said. "The body will be the sole legitimate representative of
the Syrian people. Once they get international recognition,
there will be a fund for military support."
The new body would mirror the Transitional National Council
that united the opposition to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year
and then took power after he was ousted, the source suggested.
"They will create a 'temporary government', which could take
control of embassies around the world and take Syria's seat at
the U.N., because the regime would have lost its legitimacy."
An outline agreement could see the SNC and other opposition
figures agree on a 60-member political assembly, or congress, as
well as a military and a judicial council.
The SNC, which has previously been the main opposition group
on the international stage, may have around a third of the seats
in the new body but would otherwise lose much of its influence.
Though it was not yet clear whether the groups meeting in
Doha will name members to the new body or broach the thorny
issue of its leadership, its creation would mark an advance long
sought by the United States and Qatar.
Foreign countries that oppose Assad are determined to push
Syrian opposition figures to cooperate, which means bridging
gaps between exiles and those working in Syria, and between
liberals and increasingly powerful Islamist militants.
The West and its regional allies worry that were Assad to
fall before the opposition unites behind a credible body capable
of leading the country, increasingly powerful Islamist militia
would quickly take Syria over.
"GET A MOVE ON"
Qatar's prime minister told delegates on Thursday to "get a
move on" in a closed meeting in a Doha five-star hotel.
"The Qataris are not to going to let them leave here in
failure after all this investment," said a diplomatic source on
the sidelines of the Doha meetings.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week called for
overhauling the opposition amid eroding faith in the SNC, saying
there needed to be representation of those "on the frontlines
and dying". Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron also
signalled international pressure to unite the opposition.
What began in March 2011 as a protest movement for reforms
following uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia has spiralled into a
civil war that has killed more than 32,000 people.
While the opposition argues, rebels have advanced, firing
rockets at the presidential palace in Damascus this week.
Turkey said on Friday that 8,000 more refugees had fled
across the frontier in the last 24 hours.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on
Thursday it could not keep pace with the needs of civilians.
Assad told Russia Today television on Thursday he would
"live and die in Syria", comments that echoed the words of other
Arab leaders before they lost power last year.
OBAMA RE-ELECTION ADDS TO PRESSURE FOR DEAL
"Regional political developments as well as rapid military
changes on the ground have caused a renewed sense of urgency
within the SNC," said Michael Stephens, a Doha-based analyst
with Britain's Royal United Services Institute think tank.
"A failure to reach an agreement would leave them woefully
unprepared to take power should the unthinkable happen and Assad
SNC members have previously resisted joining a wider body
which might dilute their influence.
Calls for a new, wider body have been led by dissident
businessman Riad Seif, prompting other SNC members to denounce
him this week as a "U.S. agent". However, senior SNC member
Burhan Ghalioun said the atmosphere at the talks was "positive".
"We all agree that we don't want to walk away from this
meeting in failure," Ghalioun said on Thursday night, signalling
the shift in the SNC's position towards agreeing to a deal.
Pressure on the opposition to unite increased further this
week after the re-election of U.S president Barack Obama, which
removed uncertainty about the U.S. position.
A diplomat familiar with the talks said that throughout the
week the SNC had shifted towards taking international pressure
more seriously, especially after Obama's victory.
"The Americans felt a swagger after the results of the
election and Obama's win. No one can dismiss them anymore,
because they are staying," he said, adding that a State
Department official sat in on Thursday meetings.
"But reaching a real deal over the initiative will also
depend on who joins this assembly from the SNC, which will have
no real influence after that."
The SNC is due on Friday to complete elections to its
executive council and choose a new leader, before continuing
talks with Seif, representatives of rebel groups and other
political factions on forming the new assembly.
The first diplomatic source sounded a note of caution.
"Yes there will be an agreement, but is it sustainable? Is
it well thought through and well prepared? Will it fall through
later on? The future will tell," he said.