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Main Syrian opposition forms military council

BEIRUT--Syria's main opposition group formed a military council Thursday to organize and unify all armed resistance to President Bashar Assad's regime as the conflict veered ever closer to civil war.

The Paris-based leadership of the Syrian National Council said its plan was coordinated with the most potent armed opposition force — the Free Syrian Army — made up mainly of army defectors.

“The revolution started peacefully and kept up its peaceful nature for months, but the reality today is different and the SNC must shoulder its responsibilities in the face of this new reality,” SNC president Burhan Ghalioun told reporters in Paris, saying any weapons flowing into the country should go through the council.

Still he tried to play down the risks of all-out warfare.

“We want to control the use of weapons so that there won't be a civil war,” he said. “Our aim is to help avoid civil war.”

The SNC has called for arming rebels in the past, but this was the first time it sought to organize the fighters under one umbrella. The plan coincides with a ferocious government offensive on the opposition stronghold of Homs in central Syria that has been going on for nearly a month.

International pressure on the regime has been growing more intense by the day. The U.N.'s top human rights body voted Thursday to condemn Syria for its “widespread and systematic violations” against civilians, and the UK and Switzerland closed their embassies in Damascus over worsening security. The U.S. closed its embassy in February.

But the U.S. has not advocated arming the rebels, in part out of fear it would create an even more bloody and prolonged conflict because of Syria's complex web of allegiances in the region that extend to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, the Syrian regime showed a new determination to crush its opponents, vowing to “cleanse” the rebel-held district of Baba Amr in Homs from “gunmen,” as activists reported troops massing outside.

Syrian activists said government forces have cut off communications to Bab Amr, jamming satellite phone signals as they mass for an apparent ground assault. The neighborhood has been under siege for about four weeks and hundreds have died in shelling.

Authorities had previously blocked land and mobile phone lines, but activists were able to communicate with the outside world with satellite phones.

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Kuwaiti Islamist-Shiite MP Hussein Al Qallaf, left, gesture toward opponent MPs, as liberal-Shiite MP Abdulhameed Dashti gestures at right, during a heated debate over the situation in Syria at the Kuwait's National Assembly's session on Wednesday, Feb. 29.

(AP)

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