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Israel drawn into Syria conflict, fires missile across border

Baz Ratner / Reuters

This file photo shows fire and smoke rising after shells exploded in the Syrian village of Bariqa, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, near Alonei Habashan on the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, Nov. 7, 2012.

JERUSALEM  -- The Israeli military has fired a missile into Syria, the first time Israel has been drawn into the fighting in the neighboring country.

The military said it fired the missile as a warning shot on Sunday after a stray mortar from Syria hit a military post in the Golan Heights. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and subsequently annexed it.

The military says no damage or injuries were reported inside Israel.

A string of mortar shells have struck the Golan during the Syrian civil war. Israel views the fire as accidental, but nonetheless has warned that it holds Syria responsible.

It came as Syrian opposition groups, meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, signed an initial agreement to form a new coalition of forces fighting to end the rule of President Bashar Assad.

"An initial deal has been signed. The evening session will be for electing the president of the body and his deputy," Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, a Muslim Brotherhood delegate, told reporters in Doha.

Ann Curry

Ann Curry photographs Syrian rebels and others affected by the conflict.

The new body, made up of groups inside and outside Syria, would be called the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, delegates said.

The group's leader, once chosen, will automatically become the focal point for opposition activities.

U.S. diplomats and officials from Qatar, which has bankrolled opposition to Assad and played a major role in Arab diplomacy against him, have prodded the players over the past week to come to an arrangement.

Thousands have fled violence in Syria in the last 24 hours, with many Syrian refugees now sheltering in Turkish camps. In his latest interview, Syrian President Assad says his army is trying to avoid civilian deaths. NBC's John Ray reports.

The parties were close to a deal in the early hours of Sunday after Qatari and United Arab Emirates officials pressed them to agree, but it appeared to fall through when the meeting broke up at 3 a.m.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), which has led overseas opposition activity over the past year, had lost the confidence of Washington and other powers who saw it as ineffective and riven with personal disputes.

The new plan involves a 55- or 60-member assembly alongside a military council including rebel groups such as the Free Syrian Army and a judicial council.

It will seek to obtain international recognition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and form a ten-member government-in-waiting, SNC member Wael Merza told Reuters.

At the talks in Doha bringing together various opposition groups, the SNC had been concerned at being sidelined in the wider body, a U.S.-backed proposal presented by prominent dissident Riad Seif.

As fighting rages in Syria with heavy air raids, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S.  would push for a major revamp in Syria's opposition leadership. NBC's Keith Miller reports.

A source inside the meeting said the SNC had asked to continue the talks on Sunday but that it would be a "last chance", suggesting that opposition figures behind the U.S.-backed initiative are threatening to go ahead without the SNC.

International backers of the opposition fear that rapidly changing events on the ground could lead to Assad's rule collapsing and jihadist militias seizing the initiative in a power vacuum if no opposition body abroad is in a position to step in immediately.

Anti-Assad protests erupted nearly 20 months ago, meeting a violent response which led to a conflict that has cost more than 38,000 lives and threatens to spill into neighboring countries

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