Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi attends the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Cairo on Wednesday.

Cairo - Leaders of Muslim nations called for a negotiated end to Syria’s civil war at a summit in Cairo on Wednesday.

The summit of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) opened on a day when the assassination of leading Tunisian opposition politician, Shokri Belaid, highlighted the fragility of “Arab Spring” democratic revolutions in North Africa.

The head of the Syrian opposition, in Cairo but not at the summit, told BBC Arabic that Iran was making the decisions in Damascus, and gave the Syrian government until Sunday to release women detainees or else his offer of talks would lapse.

In a keynote address, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi called on “the ruling regime” in Damascus to learn the lessons of history and not put its interests above those of the nation, saying that rulers who did so were inevitably finished.

Mursi urged all OIC members to support the Syrian opposition’s efforts to unite and bring about change.

Heavy fighting erupted in Damascus on Wednesday as rebels launched an offensive against Assad's forces, breaking a lull in the conflict, opposition activists said.

Ahmadinejad earlier told Egyptian journalists there could be no military solution and he was encouraged that the Syrian government and opposition were moving towards negotiations to end a conflict in which at least 60 000 people have died.

His foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Egypt's state news agency he believed the Syrian government was ready to negotiate with the opposition. “We are optimistic,” he added after the meeting with the leaders of Turkey and Egypt.

Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, sought to project his country as the leader of the Islamic world in his speech, seven months after becoming Egypt's first democratically elected head of state.

He told the assembled kings, presidents and prime ministers that the “glorious January 25 revolution” that toppled Egypt's autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 “forms the cornerstone in the launching of this nation to new horizons of progress”.

Egypt is taking over the OIC chair at a time of upheaval in the Arab world and sectarian tension between the main branches of Islam. Mursi is also grappling with sustained protests at home by liberal and leftist opponents who accuse him of seeking to monopolise power.

On Tuesday, he embraced Ahmadinejad and gave him a red-carpet airport welcome, but his foreign minister hastened to assure Gulf Arab states that Egypt would not sacrifice their security in opening to Tehran.

Syria was not present at the Islamic summit after being suspended from the OIC last August.

The Syrian opposition said it had not received an invitation and would not be attending. – Reuters