CAIRO (Reuters) - Opposition activists from Syrian’s President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect called for his overthrow on Sunday and urged their co-religionists in the army to rebel.
In the first meeting of its kind by Alawites who support the revolt, delegates distanced themselves from Assad’s crackdown against an uprising in which 70,000 people have been killed.
“We call on our brothers in the Syrian army, specifically members of our sect, not to take up arms against their people and to refuse to join the army,” the delegates said in a statement after two days of meeting in the Egyptian capital.
Alawite domination of the officer army corp is one of the pillars of Assad’s control.
“The Syrian regime is not an Alawite sectarian regime ... the Alawite sect was and is being held hostage by the regime,” said the statement, which was read out by Alawite activist Tawfiq Dunia.
“One of the goals of the Syrian revolution is to restore the national identity and free the Alawite sect from the family of the ruling regime,” the statement said.
A government crackdown has sparked a mostly Sunni Islamist insurgency that is leading some Alawites to fear they have no future without Assad. Alawites are an offshoot of Shi‘ite Islam that make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population.
Assad has said he is fighting a foreign-backed conspiracy to divide Syria, describing the rebels as Islamist terrorists.
The Cairo meeting, which called for a democratic Syria representing all political groups and sects, was also attended by Sunni and other opposition activists.
“What is important is that all Syrians unite regardless of their sect,” Samir Aita, a prominent economist and member of the Syrian Democratic Forum, told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.
On Sunday, the head of the main Syrian opposition group, Moaz Alkhatib, resigned in a blow to the diminishing moderate wing of the two-year revolt.
Editing by Stephen Powell