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Libya-style warfare is no solution for Syria, activists say

Syrian opposition figure Samir Nashar (C) addresses a meeting in Istanbul October 2, 2011.

REUTERS/STRINGER/TURKEY/REUTERS/STRINGER/TURKEY

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When the Syrian National Council emerged on Sunday as the primary voice of revolutionaries in that country, Samir Nashar took centre stage as one of the SNC's leading figures.

The grey-haired businessman from Aleppo endured a personal risk by showing up at the conference in Istanbul that brought together many of the biggest factions now opposing President Bashar al-Assad; he believes that another prominent dissident was recently drugged, kidnapped, and smuggled from Turkey into Syrian custody.

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Showing his face at the conference also means that he cannot return safely to his homeland. The journey home will only be possible if the SNC achieves its aim of overthrowing Mr. al-Assad, and Mr. Nashar now ranks among the chief architects of plans for regime change.

He is expected to be named as one of seven members on the SNC's executive committee, its top leadership body representing a group of activists known as the Damascus Declaration. That group is often described as one of the more liberal factions among the disparate enemies of the Assad regime, which also includes a large contingent from the Muslim Brotherhood.

"We have a great diversity of views," Mr. Nashar said, taking a break from intense talks in the hotel basement. "In the future, you will see a pluralistic society in Syria."

The freshly minted SNC leaders are the first to admit that they don't have a clear plan for achieving that goal. The talks in Istanbul have hammered out a consensus among leading opposition groups that they don't want to pick up weapons and become Libya-style rebels. Syria doesn't lend itself to that kind of war, they say, because the terrain is more difficult and the human landscape of sectarian, ethnic and other differences makes the risks of a civil war far greater.

Instead of open warfare, Mr. Nashar describes a two-track strategy of supporting non-violent demonstrations inside Syria while working outside the country with the international community to tighten sanctions.

"We can keep the tools of power out of the regime's hands, erode its structure, and force it to collapse," Mr. Nashar said. "We expect to see conflicts among the regime elites, and between those elites and the military."

The SNC has declared that it does not welcome any foreign troops or aircraft in Syria, for the moment, but its members do not seem entirely against all forms of intervention if the situation continues to slide toward war.

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"One would dare say that an outside military intervention could be less costly than a civil war," Mr. Nashar said. "A civil war in our country would be much more costly than in Libya, because here you could have hundreds of thousands dead."

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