(File image) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Syrian opposition leaders were meeting in Turkey on Friday in a bid to settle their differences and forge a united front to confront the escalating conflict in their homeland.

“We will work towards a unified vision,” Burhan Ghalioun, the former head of the main opposition group the Syrian National Council, said shortly before the two-day gathering kicked off in Istanbul.

The meeting brings together various opposition factions including a Kurdish group and representatives from several Arab and Western countries are also in Istanbul to observe the proceedings.

“We're here to define a common position,” said Bassma Qodmani, SNC head of foreign relations. “There are not many more points of difference between us now.”

France is represented by its ambassador to Damascus, who was recalled in November in protest at the violent amascus regime violence. The US, Germany, Italy and Turkey also sent senior diplomats.

Friday's meeting comes ahead of a planned major conference organised by opposition groups in Cairo under the auspices of the Arab League, at a date to be announced.

The newly-elected head of the SNC, Kurdish activist Abdel Basset Sayda, said as he took office last Sunday that his priority was to unify the opposition.

Monitors say more than 14 400 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Syria since anti-regime protests erupted in March 2011, prompting a bloody crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's forces. – Sapa-AFP