ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Syria’s divided opposition, under heavy pressure to shake up its Islamist-dominated ranks, struck a deal on Thursday to present a more representative image to the world before a proposed international peace conference.
Delegates at talks in Istanbul agreed to admit a liberal bloc led by veteran figure Michel Kilo into the Syrian National Coalition, which acts as the civilian opposition leadership in the two-year conflict with the Damascus government.
The deal followed seven days of marathon talks and required the intervention of Turkey as well as Western and Arab nations.
Opposition leaders are looking to allay widespread fears that the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is being hijacked by hardline Islamists, who have been at the forefront of the armed insurgency.
Thursday’s agreement marked the first stage in a process to choose new leaders for an coalition that has been rudderless since March and name a provisional government to strengthen what are now weak links with rebel units inside Syria.
Russia and the United States are trying to bring representatives of Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 43 years, and the opposition together for peace talks in Geneva.
Assad was quoted on Thursday in a Lebanese newspaper as saying he would attend, while the opposition coalition declared it would take part only if a deadline were set for a settlement that forces him to relinquish power.
Russia, Assad’s longtime ally, accused the coalition on Thursday of seeking to scuttle any conference with its precondition for the president’s departure.
Editing by Mark Heinrich