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Syria's opposition grapples with question of unity

Syria's splintered opposition has opened talks aimed at forging a common front and gaining international credibility. The Qatar meeting came as rebels reported they had gained control of an oilfield.

Opposition groups from Syria met on Sunday to begin four days of talks aimed at burying their differences and showing a united front to the world.

The talks in Doha are aimed at broadening the scope of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the most-established opposition group outside Syria.

However, a US proposal to expand the membership of the SNC from about 300 to 400 members - and to rename the body the Syrian National Initiative - has so far failed to muster enthusiasm.

Washington is keen to see more representatives of the rebels who are "fighting and dying" inside Syria represented in the new body, amid perceptions that the SNC has so far been dominated by the moderate Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Influential opposition figure Riad Seif has called for a structure that includes Free Syrian Army representatives, regional military councils and other insurgent units as well as civilian bodies.

Although the SNC on Friday accused the US of undermining the revolt by sowing division, it appeared open to the idea of expansion on Sunday.

"The main aim is to expand the council to include more of the social and political components. There will be new forces in the SNC," said current SNC leader Abdulbaset Sieda.

'Oilfield captured, warplane downed'

Meanwhile, rebels claimed they had seized a major oilfield and downed a government warplane during fighting in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that its sources in Syria had confirmed the capture of the al-Ward oilfield.

"Rebels in the Jaafar Tayyar Brigade took control of al-Ward oilfield, east of the town of Mayadin, after a siege that lasted for several days," the group said, adding that a warplane had been shot down and that the pilot appeared to have been captured.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman claimed that the seizure of the oilfield represented a first since the beginning of the revolt against President Bashar Assad in March last year.

An activist in the area told the news agency DPA that the facility had been operational until shortly before it was taken by the rebels.

Humanitarian milestone

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent reported on Sunday that they had delivered humanitarian assistance for the first time to parts of the old town in the city of Homs.

"We have entered Homs on several occasions in recent months, but this is the first time that we have been able to reach the neighborhoods of Khalidiya and Hamidiya in the Old City," said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC's delegation in Syria.

In an announcement on its website, the ICRC credited both rebels and government troops with allowing the 34-member humanitarian team to enter.

rc/ccp (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)