Syria's main exiled opposition groups met in Cairo Monday to try to forge a common vision for a political transition in Syria after criticising a blueprint agreed by the major powers last week in a compromise with China and Russia.
CAIRO- Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, who chaired the meeting attended by around 250 opposition figures, urged opposition groups "not to waste this opportunity" and to "unite."
The Arab League chief also stressed the need for "a pluralist democratic system that does not discriminate between Syrians."
Nasser al-Qudwa, deputy to UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, echoed Arabi's call.
He urged the opposition to "unify your vision and your performance."
"This is not a choice, but a necessity if the opposition wants to gain the trust of its people in Syria," Qudwa told the meeting which was also attended by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait.
The two-day meeting comes as violence continues in Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Monday that more than 16,500 people have been killed in violence since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out in March last year.
Rebel fighters and activists based in Syria announced they would boycott the Cairo meeting, denouncing it as a "conspiracy" that served the policy goals of Damascus allies Moscow and Tehran.
"We refuse all kinds of dialogue and negotiation with the killer gangs...and we will not allow anyone to impose on Syria and its people the Russian and Iranian agendas," said a statement signed by the rebel Free Syrian Army and "independent" activists.
The signatories criticised the agenda of the Cairo talks for "rejecting the idea of a foreign military intervention to save the people... and ignoring the question of buffer zones protected by the international community, humanitarian corridors, an air embargo and the arming of rebel fighters."
The Cairo talks come after world powers meeting in Geneva on Saturday agreed a transition plan that was branded a failure by both the opposition and the Syrian state media.
The boycotters said the talks follow the "dangerous decisions of the Geneva conference, which aim to safeguard the regime, to create a dialogue with it and to form a unity government with the assassins of our children."
"The Cairo conference aims to give a new chance to envoy Kofi Annan to try again to convince Assad to implement his six-point plan... while forgetting that thousands have been martyred since the plan came into force (on April 12)," they said.
The transition plan agreed in Geneva did not make any explicit call for Assad to cede power, as urged by Western governments, after Russia and China insisted that Syrians themselves must decide how the transition takes place.
The Syrian National Council said in a statement on Sunday that "no initiative can receive the Syrian people's backing unless it specifically demands the fall of Bashar al-Assad and his clique."
Of the more than 16,500 killed since the start of the uprising, 11,486 were civilians, 4,151 government troops and 870 army defectors, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP. In its running tolls, the watchdog counts as civilians those rebel fighters who are not defectors from the army.
In violence on Monday, at least five civilians were killed, the Observatory said.
Four died in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, when the car they were travelling in was shelled. A fifth was killed when troops shelled the rebel-controlled central town of Rastan.