Syria Live Coverage: Regime Rejects UN Human Rights Enquiry / Sunday, March 24, 2013  | Scott Lucas in EA Live, EA Middle East and Turkey, Middle East and Iran

1624 GMT: The Opposition Leadership. The Facebook page of the opposition Syrian National Coalition Facebook page says Ghassan Hitto, the Prime Minister-designate, has made his first trip into the country, meeting civilian leaders. Meanwhile, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani has asked the head of the Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, to reconsider his resignation.

Al-Khatib, in a surprise move, said he was quitting so he “can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution” (see 1228 GMT).

1622 GMT: Shelling in Damascus. Journalist Alex Thomson reports heavy fire in Damascus today:

1422 GMT: Tensions Within Opposition. A spokesman for the insurgent Free Syrian Army has said it does not recognize Ghassan Hitto, the Prime Minister-designate chosen by the Syrian National Coalition last week.

“We in the Free Syrian Army do not recognize Ghassan Hitto as prime minister because the National Coalition did not reach a consensus,” said FSA political and media coordinator Louay Muqdad.

Moqdad declared, “I speak on behalf of the Military Councils and the Chief of Staff when I say that we cannot recognize a prime minister who was forced on the National Coalition, rather than chosen by consensus.”

“We call on Coalition members to make right what was wrong,” he added, without elaborating.

Hitto won election in a meeting Istanbul after 35 out of 49 Coalition members voted for him; however, several key Coalition members, including official spokesman Walid al-Bunni, walked out of the meeting and boycotted the vote. Later, 11 Coalition figures announced they had suspended their membership in protest against an election result they viewed as illegitimate.

1228 GMT: Opposition Head al-Khatib Resigns. Moaz al-Khatib has announced his resignation from the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

Spokesman Mohamed Ali said al-Khatib, head of the Coalition since last year, followed Saturday’s meeting with the European Union, “which resulted in achieving nothing”.

“I announce my resignation from the National Coalition, so that I can work with a freedom that cannot possibly be had in an official institution,” al-Khatib said in a statement on his Facebook page. He continued:

    For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime, while the world has looked on.

    All the destruction of Syria’s infrastructure, the detention of tens of thousands of people, the forced flight of hundreds of thousands and other forms of suffering have been insufficient for the international community to take a decision to allow the people to defend themselves.

The surprise resignation comes days after the first election in Istanbul of an opposition Prime Minister-designate, Ghassan Hitto.

0928 GMT: US Secretary of State in Iraq. John Kerry has made a sudden trip to Baghdad, reportedly to press Iraq for help in the Syrian conflict.

Kerry will meet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.

Kerry “will talk about the importance of Iraq participating (in meetings about the future of Syria), but at the same time it would not be appropriate for Iraq to participate so long as it is facilitating Iranian overflight of fighters and weapons that support Assad,” a State Department official said.

The official continued, “The key here is to discuss the political future of Syria — Iraq should be part of that — but it should be on (the) basis that Assad has to go, not on the basis of permitting continued Iranian support for Assad.”

a name=”0908″>0908 GMT: Israel Returns Fire. Israel Defense Forces troops have fired a missile into Syrian territory near the Golan Heights, in response to two incidents of fire upon them in the last 24 hours.

At least two Syrian soldiers have reportedly been wounded.

Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon said after the incident, “Every violation of Israeli sovereignty and shooting from the Syrian side will immediately be answered by silencing the source of fire.”

0856 GMT: Islamists with Advanced Weapons. The Brown Moses blog posts evidence of advanced weapons — supplied by Arab states, with the support of the US and other countries, to insurgents in the south — reaching Islamist fighters in other parts of Syria.

The blog has images of Croatian arms, including a M79 Osa anti-tank weapon and an M60 recoilless gun — in the hands of the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra:

0452 GMT: Casualties. The Violations Documentation Center records 53,851 deaths since the start of the conflict in March 2011, an increase of 99 from Saturday. Of the dead, 43,158 were civilians, an increase of 56 from yesterday.

0440 GMT: Human Rights. The Assad regime has dismissed the extension of an enquiry by the United Nations, calling the investigation of human rights “biased and imbalanced”.

“Syria categorically rejects this decision,” said an official through State news agency SANA. He claimed  the resolution failed to take into account “the unethical role played by states that sponsor terrorism in Syria, which fund, train, arm and send terrorists and mercenaries”, as well as reflecting “a policy of double standards practiced by some countries that claim to defend human rights.”

The decision, he said, was  “political cover given for crimes committed by armed terrorist groups” while blaming violence on Damascus.

The resolution was adopted by the Council on Friday by a 41-1 vote, with five countries abstaining.Unable to enter Syria, the commission has interviewed more than 1500 refugees and exiles to compile its reports, in which it charges that both regime troops and opposition forces have carried out war crimes.

The resolution strongly condemned abuses by both sides, but noted that those “committed by anti-government armed groups did not reach the intensity and scale of the violations committed by the government forces and its affiliated militia”.