Around 9,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey in the past 24 hours, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday, one of the largest single day influxes, while Turkish state media said 26 defecting Syrian army officers had also arrived.
The officers, among them two generals, 11 colonels, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, four captains, and five lieutenants, crossed into the border province of Hatay with their families and other soldiers, in a group of 71 people.
In Syria, at least 117 people have been killed nationwide on Friday, Local Coordination Committees reported, as thousands of protesters rally, with many mocking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s remarks that he will “live and die” in Syria.
“Bashar, you will die in Syria, but you won’t be buried in the ground, you will be thrown in the dustbin of history!” read one sign held by protesters in the central city of Hama.
A car bomb outside a mayor’s office in the town of Muadamiya al-Sham south of Damascus killed four civilians on Friday, the Observatory said, while at least 12 civilians were killed in shelling in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
An AFP news agency correspondent in Damascus said warplanes flew over the city and heavy explosions were heard in the early morning and late afternoon.
On the ground, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) said it was reorganizing and relocating its leadership to rebel-held territory in a bid to win vital international support.
An Al Arabiya correspondent reported that the FSA was gaining control of large areas in Aleppo, as well as the Ras al-Ain crossing on the border with Turkey in the Hasaka province.
General Mustafa Sheikh, who heads the FSA military council, told AFP in northern Syria that the group had started to restructure itself into five divisions -- north, south, east and west, and the coast -- and would elect new leaders.
“We are getting closer and closer to becoming organized, so that we can get to a stage that is accepted by the international community,” he said.
Sheikh said the FSA leadership, based largely in neighboring Turkey, is countering criticism from its rank and file by relocating around 200 officers -- including himself -- back to “liberated” parts of Syria.
The Observatory says more than 37,000 people have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011, first as a protest movement and then an armed rebellion after the regime cracked down on demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Assad’s foes in the opposition met in the Qatari capital Doha, meanwhile, for Western- and Arab-backed efforts to unite in a government-in-waiting representing the whole spectrum of regime opponents.
Participants in the talks said most delegates had agreed on a unified opposition structure that would allow coordinated military action, as well as humanitarian aid and the administration of zones under rebel control.
But representatives of the main exiled opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC), voiced reservations over the proposal tabled by prominent dissident Riad Seif with apparent U.S. support.
The United States on Friday unveiled another $34 million in aid for Syria to help refugees survive the encroaching winter and protect children against diseases like measles.
Meanwhile, the SNC asked for a delay until late Friday to give its decision, allowing itself time to first elect a president.
The plan proposed an umbrella body of some 60 members, representing the SNC, civilian groups active on the ground, armed groups, Muslim scholars and others. This body would in turn form a transitional government of some 10 members, and a military council.
But in a blow to the SNC, a major network of on-the-ground Syrian activists said on Friday it was withdrawing from the main opposition over its failures to reform into a truly representative body.
The Local Coordination Committees, or LCC, said in a statement that it had pushed the SNC to adopt “serious and effective” reforms to make it more representative, but to no effect.
“It is clear to us now that the Syrian National Council is not fit to assume such a role, especially after the disappointing results of its restructuring attempts,” the statement said.
“The Local Coordination Committees hereby declares its withdrawal from the National Syrian Council.”