A U.S.-backed "road map" for political reforms in Syria would transform the regime of Bashar al-Assad but leave him in place, a British newspaper reported Thursday.
The opposition plan was put forth despite Syrian protesters' demands for Assad's overthrow after three months of a bloody uprising, The Guardian said, citing unidentified sources. Details emerged as Assad's forces continued to fan out near the Turkish border.
The unpublished draft document calls for Assad to lead "a secure and peaceful transition to civil democracy."
The Syrian Authority would give up a large part of its control it now exercises through security and authoritarian service, popular organizations and Baath Party institutions, media and others, the document says.
"The first step on this path involves building confidence between the Authority and the people to bridge the gap between them, not in blood and destruction, but through the establishment of safe and secure bridges that cannot be demolished in future," it says.Story: Syria tank assault kills 11 near Turkey border
Rights campaigners say Assad's troops, security forces and gunmen have killed over 1,300 civilians since the uprising for political freedom erupted in the southern Hauran Plain in March, including over 150 people killed in a scorched earth campaign against towns and villages in Idlib.
They say scores of troops and police were also killed for refusing to fire on civilians. Syrian authorities say more than 500 soldiers and police died in clashes with "armed terrorist groups," whom they also blame for most civilian deaths.
The 3,000-word document was circulated at a Syrian Authority-sanctioned opposition conference of 150 people Monday in Damascus, the Guardian said, noting the U.S. ambassador urged dialogue between the opposition and the regime.
The document demands a "clear and frank apology" and accountability for organizations and individuals who "failed to accommodate legitimate protests," and compensation for the families of victims of repression.
It calls for the ruling Baath party to be subject to a new law on political parties — though the party would still provide 30 of 100 members for a proposed transitional national assembly. Seventy others would be appointed by the president in consultation with opposition nominees — which will still leave Assad in a powerful position.
Several of the proposed measures have already been mentioned in public by Assad, fueling speculation he is at least partially following through on some of the document's recommendations.
The roadmap is signed by Louay Hussein and Maan Abdelsalam, leading secular intellectuals in a group called the National Action Committee, the Guardian said. Both men met the vice-president, Farouk al-Sharaa, before Assad's most recent speech, diplomats told the newspaper.
"It would be a big mistake if the Americans tried to influence this initiative and a mistake for the opposition to let them," a prominent Syrian intellectual with close links to the regime warned the Guardian. "I would advise them to distance themselves from the U.S."
A U.S. state department spokesman told the Guardian, "We are encouraging genuine dialogue between the opposition and the regime but we are not promoting anything. We want to see a democratic Syria but this is in the hands of the Syrian people."
Syrian forces block escapes
Word of the draft document emerged as Syrian army forces spread through a restive mountainous area near the Turkish border on Thursday. The death toll from a two-day military siege rose to 19 people, according to activists and a witness.
The action by Syrian troops in the northwestern area of Jabal al-Zawiya appeared to be aimed at preventing residents from fleeing to Turkey, where more than 10,000 Syrians have already taken shelter in refugee camps, activists say. The refugees have been a source of deep embarrassment to Damascus, one of the most tightly controlled regimes in the Middle East.
"They fear there will be sympathy for the people who are fleeing, and they are frightened that this will cause international pressure to mount on the regime," said Mustafa Osso, a prominent Syrian-based human rights activist.
Only five Syrians made it across the border Thursday, the lowest number in days, said Turkish officials. Over the past week, more than 10,000 Syrians rushed across, fleeing their army's violent crackdown against demonstrators.
Syrian forces were consolidating their hold on the Jabal al-Zawiya after two days of heavy shelling in the area, particularly in the village of Rameh, said Osso. That assessment was repeated by Lebanon-based activist Omar Idibi and an eyewitness who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.
They said most people were killed Wednesday and early Thursday. Idibi said the death toll was likely to rise as people were pulled out of rubble from smashed homes in some areas.
Idibi said part of the fighting was prompted by Syrian forces trying to hunt down several dozen comrades who abandoned their arms. Some rebelled while in Rameh village, while others split away from the armed forces in earlier fighting this month in the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour.
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