DAMASCUS - The new head of Syria's main opposition group said on Sunday the regime is on its last legs, as the death toll in the uprising topped 14,000 amid calls for military defections and civil disobedience.
"The multiplying massacres and shellings show that it is struggling," he said of mass deaths of civilians, the most recent of which saw 20 people, mostly women and children, killed in a bombardment of the southern city of Daraa Saturday.
At his first press conference since taking over the reins, Sayda called on all members of the Damascus regime to defect, while reaching out to minority groups by promising them a full say in a future, democratic Syria. "We call upon all officials in the regime and in the institutions to defect from the regime," Sayda told reporters in Istanbul.
The Free Syrian Army (FSA) meanwhile called for a campaign of mass "civil disobedience," and also urged officers and troops in President Bashar al-Assad's regime to jump ship and join the rebel ranks. "We call on Syrians to launch a general strike leading to mass civil disobedience," FSA spokesman in Syria Colonel Kassem Saadeddine said in a statement.
He urged officers and men in Syria's regular army "whose hands are not tainted with blood to join the fighters." He said that for the FSA, largely comprising Syrian military deserters, "the hour of liberation and change has come." "Soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers are called upon to join the rebellion and the ranks of the Free Syrian Army," he said. New SNC chief Sayda replaced Paris-based academic Burhan Ghalioun, who stepped down last month in the face of mounting splits that were undermining the group's credibility. Activists accused Ghalioun of ignoring the Local Coordination Committees, which spearhead anti-government protests on the ground in Syria, and of giving the Muslim Brotherhood too big a role.
Sayda, 55, has lived in exile in Sweden for two decades and is seen as a consensus candidate capable of reconciling the rival factions within the SNC and of broadening its appeal among Syria's myriad of ethnic and confessional groups. He is not in any political party, and SNC officials call him a "conciliatory" figure, "honest" and "independent."
Sayda reached out to minority groups in Syria, following criticism of the SNC for failing to represent the country's full array of ethnic and religious groups including Arabs, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze and others.
It also reported at least 29 people killed nationwide on Sunday, among them 11 soldiers.
The latest deaths bring to more than 14,100 the number of people killed since March last year, including 9,862 civilians, 3,470 soldiers and 783 army deserters, the Observatory said.
Hundreds of rebels remained holed up in Latakia province, a loyalist stronghold on the Mediterranean coast. The army sent reinforcements to the mainly Alawite province where rebels have grouped in a Sunni Muslim enclave around the town of Al-Heffa, the Observatory said.
Nearly 60 soldiers have died since June 5 in battles with opposition fighters in the enclave, which lies some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Turkish border.
At least 46 civilians and rebels have also been killed.