Arab League says Syrian opposition must unite during Cairo meeting about transitional plan

CAIRO – The head of the Arab League called Monday for the fragmented Syrian opposition to unite and said a U.N.-brokered plan for a transitional government in Syria fell short of expectations.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby addressed nearly 250 members of the Syrian opposition at a meeting in Cairo in an effort to coax the disparate groups to pull together. The gathering marked the first time the Arab League had hosted a gathering of the Syrian opposition.

“There is an opportunity before the conference of Syrian opposition today that must be seized, and I say and repeat that this opportunity must not be wasted under any circumstance,” Elaraby said. “The sacrifices of the Syrian people are bigger than us and more valuable than any narrow differences or factional disputes,”

He also said that U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan’s new plan to form a transitional government in Syria to end the country’s crisis fell short of Arab expectations.

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The plan, which was accepted by an international conference in Geneva on Saturday, left the door open – at Russia’s insistence – to Syrian President Bashar Assad being a part of the interim administration.

Elaraby, who has held private meetings with Syrian opposition figures at the League’s headquarters in the past, said the agreement did not meet Arab expectations because it did not specify a time frame for a “clear transition” as the Arab League had called for.

Syrian opposition groups have roundly rejected the U.N.-brokered plan, calling it ambiguous and a waste of time and vowing not to negotiate with Assad or members of his “murderous” regime.

The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly call for Assad to have no role in a new Syrian government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown that the opposition says has claimed more than 14,000 lives.