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'Syria's oppressive regime must go'

Egypt has called for an intervention to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

The head of a UN mission warned of "civil war" in Syria after his observers counted more than 92 bodies, 32 of them children on 26 May, 2012. Picture: AFP

DUBAI/AMMAN - Egypt called on Thursday for intervention to halt bloodshed in Syria, telling a meeting of 120 nations it was their duty to stand against the "oppressive regime" of Bashar al-Assad, prompting a Syrian walkout.

President Mohamed Mursi, elected two months ago after a popular uprising toppled Egypt's long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak, said Assad had lost legitimacy in his fight to crush a 17-month-old revolt in which 20,000 people have been killed.

Mursi's scathing speech to a summit of non-aligned leaders, hosted by Assad's Shi'ite ally Iran, prompted Syria's foreign minister to accuse the moderate Sunni Islamist leader of inciting further bloodshed in Syria.

The political broadside against the Syrian president came as rebels said they shot down a fighter plane in northern Syria, where his air force has been bombarding opposition-held towns in a fierce counter-offensive against insurgents.

It was the latest strike by Assad's foes on the air power he has increasingly relied on to crush the uprising. Rebels said this week they attacked a northern military air base and shot down a helicopter that was bombarding a district of Damascus.

"The bloodshed in Syria is our responsibility on all our shoulders and we have to know that the bloodshed cannot stop without effective interference from all of us," Mursi said.

"We all have to announce our full solidarity with the struggle of those seeking freedom and justice in Syria, and translate this sympathy into a clear political vision that supports a peaceful transition to a democratic system of rule that reflects the demands of the Syrian people for freedom."

His comments prompted Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to storm out of the meeting, complaining that Mursi was inciting fighters to "continue shedding Syrian blood", Syrian state television said.

ASSAD SAYS NEEDS TIME

Assad, in his first television interview since rebels took their fight into the heart of Damascus and the country's biggest city, Aleppo, said on Wednesday his fight to put down the uprising was going well but needed more time.

"Everyone wants this battle to be completed in days or weeks but this isn't reasonable, because we are in the middle of a regional and international struggle and it needs time to be resolved," he said.

Mainly peaceful protests were met with force by Assad's military, and the uprising has degenerated into a civil war with sectarian overtones and regional dimensions. The mainly Sunni Muslim rebels are backed by regional Sunni powers, particularly Gulf Arab states and Turkey.

Assad, whose Alawite community is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, has support from Iran, a rival of Gulf Arab states and Western powers. Lebanon's Shi'ite militia Hezbollah has also shown solidarity with the Syrian president.

The role of regional powers has assumed greater significance because of deadlock at U.N. Security Council, where diplomatic stalemate has marginalized the major powers.

U.S., Russian and Chinese ministers are not expected to attend Thursday's U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria, underlining the fact that both Assad's critics and backers on the council see little prospect of it taking any action.

"We wanted a resolution on humanitarian issues, but we faced a double refusal," said a French diplomat, whose country will chair the meeting in New York.

"The United States and Britain believe we have reached the end of what can be achieved at the Security Council, and Moscow and Beijing said that such a resolution would have been biased."

Nearly a year and a half after the uprising erupted; Assad's political foes are equally divided.

A member of the Syrian National Council, which once hoped to win international endorsement as the country's leadership-in-waiting, resigned this week complaining it was not doing enough to back the revolt and must be replaced by a new political authority.

"My sense was that the SNC was not up to facing the increasing challenges on the ground," Basma Kodmani, the latest council member to break from the SNC, told Reuters.

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