Syrian rebels press ahead on two fronts

  • Article by: CHRISTINE HAUSER and HALA DROUBI , New York Times
  • Updated: November 28, 2012 - 8:22 PM

Talks in Egypt, downed aircraft came amid bombings.

The Syrian opposition pushed ahead on military and political fronts Wednesday, as rebels shot down a government warplane in the north and a newly formed coalition started talks in Cairo on how to pick a transitional government to replace that of President Bashar Assad.

The coalition's talks came as the 20-month civil war flared anew as car bombings killed dozens near Damascus, the capital.

Challenge to unite groups

The coalition, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, was formed in Qatar earlier this month, and has been recognized by Britain, France, Turkey and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. But to encourage further recognition internationally, it must tackle the problem of uniting multiple groups in exile and rebels on the ground in Syria.

That challenge was apparent on the first day of what are expected to be two days of talks in Egypt. Disagreements emerged over the composition of the coalition when the Syrian National Council, one of its members, tried to increase the number of its representatives. "Nothing will proceed until we work this out," said one council member at the talks, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

State media in Syria said on Wednesday that at least 34 people, and possibly many more, died in two car bombings in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus. News reports said it is largely populated by members of the Christian and Druse minorities.

The official SANA news agency said the explosions about 7 a.m. were the work of "terrorists," the word used by the authorities to describe rebel forces seeking the overthrow of Assad.

The agency said the bombings were in the main square of Jaramana. Residents said the neighborhood was home to many families who have fled other parts of Syria because of the conflict.

Shift in fight for skies

There were also reports from Syria and Turkey that for the second successive day insurgents had shot down a government aircraft in the north of the country, offering further evidence that the rebels are seeking a major shift by challenging the government's dominance of the skies.

It was not immediately clear how the aircraft, apparently a plane attacking the town of Daret Azzeh, 20 miles west of Aleppo and close to the Turkish border, had been brought down. Video posted online by rebels showed wreckage with fires still burning around it and a man in aviator coveralls being carried away.

In Turkey, once an ally of the Assad government, a team of NATO inspectors visited sites Wednesday where the alliance might install batteries of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles that Turkey has requested to prevent any incursions by the Syrian air force. Patriot missiles have also been discussed as a way of enforcing a no-fly zone over rebel-held areas of Syria if one is imposed.

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