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Syria opposition chief rejects UN peace talks

At least 31 anti-government activists were killed Friday after dozens of tanks fired mortar shells in rebel-controlled territories around Syria. Msnbc's Thomas Roberts talks to NBC's Richard Engel.

UNITED NATIONS – The leader of Syria's main opposition group rejected calls Friday by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan for peace talks with President Bashar Assad's government, saying it’s pointless and unrealistic as long as the regime is massacring its own people.

As the prospects for diplomacy faltered, a Turkish official said two Syrian generals, a colonel and two sergeants defected to Turkey on Thursday, a day after a Syrian deputy oil minister also deserted Assad's regime, making him the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition.

The military defections are significant as most army defectors so far have been low-level conscripts.

Annan, who has been appointed joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, has said his mission was to start a "political process" to resolve the conflict in the country. He is due in Syria on Saturday where he will meet with Assad, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confirmed.

Ban told reporters in New York that Annan also plans to meet with the Syrian opposition before leaving the country on Sunday.

In a telephone interview from Paris, Burhan Ghalioun, who heads the opposition Syrian National Council, told The Associated Press that Annan already has disappointed the Syrian people.

“These kind of comments are disappointing and do not give a lot of hope for people in Syria being massacred every day,” Ghalioun said. “It feels like we are watching the same movie being repeated over and over again.”

“My fear is that, like other international envoys before him, the aim is to waste a month or two of pointless mediation efforts,” he added, referring to Annan.

Tank rounds and mortar bombs
Syrian forces killed at least 54 people on Friday as they sought to quell demonstrations against Assad before the weekend’s peace mission.

Tank rounds and mortar bombs crashed into opposition districts in the rebellious central city of Homs, killing 17 people, activists said, while 24 were killed in the northern province of Idlib and more deaths were reported elsewhere.

"Thirty tanks entered my neighborhood at seven this morning and they are using their cannons to fire on houses," said Karam Abu Rabea, a resident in Homs's Karm al-Zeitoun neighborhood.

The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed in the past year since the revolt against Assad erupted in the country's south and engulfed the country. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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