BEIRUT — Syria’s main opposition groups rejected Sunday a new international plan calling for a transitional government because the compromise agreement didn’t bar President Bashar Assad from participating.

Their reaction held out little hope for an end to more than 15 months of carnage on a day when the main opposition group said 800 people were killed in violence in the past week alone.

Opposition activist groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s authoritarian rule began in March 2011, or on average about 900 a month.
That would make last week’s toll alone almost as high as the monthly average as government forces furiously pounded rebellious towns and cities with helicopters, tanks and artillery in an offensive aimed at recovering rebel-held territories.

RUSSIA INSISTS ON ROLE FOR ASSAD

World powers at a conference in Geneva on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered plan calling for creation of a transitional national unity government with full executive powers in Syria. But at Russia’s insistence, the compromise agreement left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration.

It could also include members of Assad’s government and the opposition and other groups. The transitional government would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.

However, Syria’s fragmented opposition has long opposed any solution that involved negotiating with Assad or allowing him to cling to power.

Bassma Kodmani, a Paris-based spokeswoman for the main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, said the agreement is “ambiguous” and lacks a mechanism or timetable for implementation.

She said there were some positive elements in the plan, which implies that all members of the Security Council were in agreement that the transition period must not be led by Assad. But she said this needs to be more explicit.

“We cannot say that there is any positive outcome today,” Kodmani said.

The regime did not react to the plan. But Assad has repeatedly said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists – his term for those fighting the regime – and will not accept any non-Syrian model of governance.

NEED FOR SOLUTION GROWS URGENT

Fayez Sayegh, a prominent lawmaker and member of the ruling Baath party, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the conference, saying that participants left it up to the Syrian people to decide their fate and form of governance.

“The conference … did not discuss matters that have to do with the president as Western countries would have wished,” Sayegh said.

The need for a solution to the Syrian crisis is growing more urgent by the day with the sharp escalation in violence and deaths and the conflict threatening to spill across borders. Syria shot down a warplane from neighboring Turkey on June 22, and Turkey responded by setting up anti-aircraft guns along the frontier. Turkey said Sunday it scrambled fighter jets to its border after Syrian helicopters flew too close to the frontier.

But any hopes for a quick breakthrough were dashed by the opposition’s rejection to the brand-new initiative, likely relegating it to the latest in a series of failures by the international community to unify and stop Assad’s crackdown on dissent.

At the Geneva conference, the U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly bar Assad from any role in a new government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violence.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted Saturday that Assad would still have to go, and France’s foreign minister echoed the demand  Sunday.

AGREEMENT DESCRIBED AS A ‘FARCE’

It’s now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall” and help force his departure,” she said, addressing the countries that have shielded Assad’s regime from U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the crackdown.

The SNC criticized the plan as too ambiguous, though it said it contained some new, positive elements. Other opposition groups called it a waste of time and vowed as they always do not to negotiate with Assad or members of his “murderous” regime.

“The country has been destroyed, and they want us then to sit with the killer?” veteran opposition figure Haitham Maleh asked.

Maleh described the agreement reached in Geneva as a “farce” and of “no value on the ground.”

“The Syrian people are the ones who will decide the battle on the ground, not those sitting in Geneva or New York or anywhere else,” he said by telephone from Cairo, where opposition groups are to meet today.